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.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Summer re-runs: a summer place in Rome

"A cannily crafted piece of work with mass audience appeal" - The Warner Bros. Story

A SUMMER PLACE: Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue star in this enduring favourite about desire and tumult at an elite Maine resort, from the best-seller by Sloan Wilson. In his first movie lead, Donahue is strong, handsome and unshakably devoted as lovestruck Johnny Hunter. 17 year old Dee is pixieish Molly, a woman/child struggling to cope with adult emotions. Set to a lush Max Steiner score that produced one of the most unforgettable movie themes ever, this box-office hit also stars adults (Dorothy McGuire, Richard Egan, Arthur Kennedy, Constance Ford) also romantically at odds. As Johnny, Molly and their parents discover, love will find a way. They've already found the locale: A Summer Place. 

Any iconography from that great year 1959 has to include that shot (above) of Troy and Sandra from A SUMMER PLACE,  one of the year's popular hits up there with PILLOW TALK, IMITATION OF LIFE and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING - as well as the year's big hitters like BEN HUR, SOME LIKE IT HOT, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, RIO BRAVO and those adult dramas like ANATOMY OF A MURDER, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, ON THE BEACH, THE NUN'S STORY or ROOM AT THE TOP.  Sloane Wilson was one of those chroniclers of American middle-class mores (as in THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT) and I remember his "A Summer Place" being a best-seller. I don't recall the film though turning up at my local cinema - adultery, divorce, pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy were hot potatoes and strictly off-limits in the Ireland of 50 years ago... . the teen fan mags like "Movieland and TV Time" had plenty of colour pin-ups and stories on Troy, Sandra, Connie and the rest....

Seeing it now its a well-crafted movie with the glorious scenery of Maine (or is it California?) and that great Max Steiner score (which also inspired the pop hit by Ferrante & Teicher). Richard Egan is the wealthy, mature ex-lifeguard returning to Pine Cove on vacation, with his controlling, repressed wife Constance Ford (why though does he put up with her so far?, they already sleep in separate rooms) and their daughter Molly (Dee, in that busy year for her). He really wants to see old flame Dorothy McGuire who has married alcoholic hotel owner Arthur Kennedy (first seen with a glass in his hand), their son Johnny (Troy) and Molly are soon sneaking off for romantic walks and kisses in the moonlight, and the two adults resume their affair too.
Busybody Bealah Bondi watches and is in her element. Constance consults her mother to see how she should procced to maximise her divorce. Troy looks a treat in those short shorts and cardigan, but his acting seems rather limited ... (he was ok though in those small parts in IMITATION OF LIFE and THE CROWDED SKY - Troy label). 
Constance & plastic christmas tree
Storm clouds gather as the teens are stranded on a beach all night and Molly's mother insists a doctor examine her to make sure nothing happened ... there are some good hysterical scenes here. The plot moves on, the adults divorce, Egan and McGuire marry and move to a Frank Lloyd Wright house (above), the teens are at their separate colleges but visit and it all gets rather heated again .... until the prolonged (at over 2 hours) climax. Ford is in her element here as the mother from hell. I couldn't help recalling that she and Kennedy were the mismatched parents of CLAUDELLE INGLISH, that other delicious piece of Warner trash from the early 60s, which starred Diane McBain, who pops up next with Troy in PARRISH, below... Dorothy McGuire seems an under-rated lady now, but was terrific with Cooper in FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956), SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON and others like THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS (1960).

Director Delmar Daves made his name with some great westerns like DRUM BEAT (my father took me to that in 1954, one of the first westerns I saw as a kid), and the original 3.10 TO YUMA, COWBOY and that good Gary Cooper one I liked THE HANGING TREE in '59,  and he scripted WHITE FEATHER - he then turned to these lush Warner melodramas showcasing their new star Troy Donahue; the hit of A SUMMER PLACE was followed with PARRISH and SUSAN SLADE both '61 and ROME ADVENTURE in '62. He also did another Italian one THE BATTLE OF THE VILLA FIORITA in '65 which has been long unseen, and also that 1964 one I saw and reviewed a while ago: YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE (trash label) as well as SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN in '63 which became THE WALTONS

PARRISH is another delicious romantic saga now and was a hit too, as Parrish (Troy) and his mother (Claudette Colbert) move to tobacco country in Connecticut. The adults are great here: warring Karl Malden (also terrific in Daves' HANGING TREE) and Dean Jagger, as Parrish romances Connie Stevens, stunning Diane McBain and Sharon Hugueny. Troy looks the business and the girls, particularly McBain, are all equally showcased. Max Steiner scores again and its a lush treat for anytime. (This was as weirdly enjoyable as Elvis over at Fox romancing Hope Lange, Tuesday Weld and Millie Perkins in Jerry Wald's WILD IN THE COUNTRY. Sheer hokum.) 

SUSAN SLADE is certainly a kitsch classic now too ...but a more hysterical sudser, no wonder it has not been seen for a long time. Connie Stevens again is Susan, who has a baby out of wedlock and her mother (Dorothy McGuire again) pretends to be the infant's mother, which causes no end of melodramatics as Susan is wooed by horse-trainer Troy (love the red windbreaker jacket), while Lloyd Nolan is sterling as Susie's father. Max scores the music again and its lushly shot by Lucien Ballard.

Dear Prudence
ROME ADVENTURE, 1962, was titled LOVERS MUST LEARN here, the title of the book our librarian heroine Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette in her debut) resigns over at the start and sets off for Italy to find romance. Rosanno Brazzi is of course the older Italian man who has romantic designs on Prue and Troy is also resident at the nice villa. Rome looks curiously empty as our duo explore the sights on their scooter, and we also get a travelogue of Italy taking in the leaning tower of Pisa, the Lakes and other delights. Italy was popular with Americans then: Gable with Loren in IT STARTED IN NAPLES, Rock with Gina (and Sandra!) in COME SEPTEMBER, Vivien in Rome for her ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE,  Minnelli's TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA in Florence and Angie Dickinson as JESSICA (after Italy being discovered in the '50s by ROMAN HOLIDAY and THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN. among others as that LA DOLCE VITA era took off).
Angie also co-stars here as Troy's previous lover, who leaves at the start - but, guess what, she returns (and wears a fabulously slinky ensemble to reclaim her lover at that dinner she hosts)  .... we also get Constance Ford again as the bookshop owner where Prudence works - "The American Bookshop" small on the outside but the large interior is actually the library set from Warners THE MUSIC MAN, (right). There is also another lush Steiner score and a great song "Al Di La"- its all a delirious confection as "written for the screen" (rather tongue in cheek surely as each cliche is burnished) by and directed by Daves. Troy though was not in Daves next, as it was the turn of another Warner Bros contract blonde (James Franciscus) as YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE
Suzanne was nice too in that one, and of course in THE BIRDS, FATE IS THE HUNTER (Suzanne label) etc, and looked just the same in WILL AND GRACE as Karen's mother! - fun too seeing her in later roles like THE QUEEN OF MEAN! She and Troy were married for a year or so ... Troy though, like Tab Hunter and Fabian, did not stay a heart-throb for too long - by the mid '60s those new guys like Beatty and Redford were taking over .... but these kitch classics by Delmar Daves have stood the test of time and are now all re-issued as a boxset with another of Troy's I do not know: PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND from '63. Troy may have had his limitations as an actor - as seen by his Romeo scene at Juliet's balcony in Verona (this was among 19 minutes of travelogue cut from the English release version! - according to the "Films & Filming" review).  Troy and Suzanne (& McBain) also did a so-so western for Raoul Walsh, A DISTANT TRUMPET in 1964, looking incongrous out west.
[Troy Donahue 1936-2001, Sandra Dee 1942-2005, Suzanne Pleshette 1937-2008].

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Summer re-runs: Tom Ripley's purple noon

 "Mercilessly cool, wickedly intense"

PLEIN SOLEIL: Based on the novel by crime scribe Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) Rene Clement's striking study from 1960 of a glamorous and complex psychopath features a career-defining turn from a young, beautiful and ultra-cool Alain Delon.  In a taut, expertly crafted thriller Delon is Tom Ripley, an emissary sent by a wealthy American industrialist to save his son, errant playboy Dickie Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) from a life of decadence in Italy. Insinuating himself into Greenleaf's existance Ripley practices his signature, dresses up in his clothes before attempting to steal his life, his girl and of course his money.

Recenly remade as the star-studded THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, PLEIN SOLEIL (PURPLE NOON) is an engrossing meditation on transference and deceit, highly rated by the famously critical Highsmith. The film is a genuinely stylish original.  So says the dvd blurb - but I am sure Highsmith was not pleased that her ending was changed, as back in 1960 our hero could not be seen to be getting away with it.

It is an odd sensation returning to a key movie of one's youth. I saw this circa 1960 in my small town cinema in Ireland when I was about 14 and suddenly I was aware of European glamour and beauty and decadence.  Though I have written about it quite a bit here (see labels) I had not actually sat down and watched it for a long time ... back then I was fascinated by the two boys enjoying their trip to Rome and that fantastic introduction to Marge with the Fra Angelico pictures and her singing that song and strumming the guitar and then we see her eyes ...

Visually, this film could serve as a cinematic poster for a Mediterranean cruise. Cinematographer Henri Decae draws us into the film with its alluring Italian locales and gorgeous panoramic vistas. Bright, complementary hues and high color contrast translate into eye-popping reds and yellows. And, of course, there's the deep blue color of the sea, and a brilliant sunlit sky. 

It is fascinating to contrast with Anthony Minghella's 1999 version, where they are fussily dressed in cliche 1950s fashions: hats, gloves, big dresses - but our glamorous trio in 1960 are wearing casual wear that has not dated at all - all those clothes could be worn now and are still smart and stylish. Delon wears a cream colour suit to die for. The look and style of Clement's film simply has not dated after 50 years. Damon too is a more geeky nerdy type and in the later version Jude Law stole the show. He toys too more homoerotically with Ripley, like in that bathroom scene (below).  What one gets in the 1960 version is how Dickie suddenly realises he is in danger on that yacht ... the later version also has that local girl who kills herself as Dickie has made her pregnant, presumably this is to make him more of a heel so we do not mind too much when he is offed ....In the recent version Dickie seems bored with Marge (Paltrow) and then gets bored with Tom whom he constantly reminds how poor he is ... the murder here is in a rowboat and seems inspired by anger rather than pre-meditated. In the original the scenes on the yacht at sea are very well done, like Tom getting sunburt when exiled to the dinghy when Dickie's prank goes too far...

I love the Highsmith book and have re-read it several times, and for a book published in the mid-'50s it is surprisingly explicit about Tom's background and desires. Minghella broadens the material by bringing in the characters played by Cate Blanchett and Jack Davenport - which is a total departure from the novel and the first version and creates a whole new final section. As I say in earlier posts, even as a teen I loved the look and style of Delon and Laforet and Ronet too, and there is that moment with Romy Schneider. The plot though seems a bit rushed now in the Clement version, with Tom ensuring that Marge gets Dickie's money - but surely he wanted it all for himself ... it still looks astonishingly modern 50+ years later .... it and Melville's LE SAMOURAI (Delon label) and of course Visconti's ROCCO and THE LEOPARD and Antonioni's L'ECLISSE certainly remain Delon's main achievements. Laforet is a wonderful singer too, and Ronet was another leading French actor, as per my post on him and those Louis Malle films like LE FEU FOLLET (Ronet label). and we have reviewed several Clements here: KNAVE OF HEARTS, GERVAISE, and that '58 favourite THE SEA WALL, etc.

Monday, 27 August 2012

He's back: Inspector Montalbano

Nice that our BBC here in starting a new 12-episodes of Italian series INSPECTOR MONTALBANO - we already had a dozen earlier in the year (TV label). A sure sign that autumn has arrived - so its a date with commissario Salvo every Saturday evening from now until Christmas! These imported crime series are quite popular here - particularly the Scandanavian ones - I tired a WALLANDER (English version with Kenneth Branagh) - it was the most miserable two hours of my life which I will never get back - television to slit your wrists to. MONTALBANO by contrast is set in Sicily, so lots of scenery, food and wine, sunshine and nicely worked out stories that take their time to unravel. There's always a few red herrings but we get there in the end, these are from a popular series of detective novels which may be worth investigating. Each episode is up to two hours, and in Italian with sub-titles, which is all part of the charm. Luca Zingaretti as Salvo is easy on the eye too and his motley crew are all nicely depicted. What's not to love ... there are dvds as well for those not within the BBC range! 

Summer re-runs: Sophia & Marcello double bill

We enjoyed going to see YESTERDAY TODAY & TOMORROW at the old Plaza cinema in Piccadilly, London back in 1964 (the cinema is now a Tesco supermarket...). This actually won the Academy Award for best foreign film then [beating Demy's UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, Bo Widerberg's RAVEN'S END, the Japanese WOMAN OF THE DUNES and Israeli SALLAH) and its not really surprising. It may be a lightweight souffle but it was the great era of international cinema. Nice to finally get a decent print of this one. It is of course 3 different stories, directed by Vittorio De Sica, and scripted by Eduardo de Fillipo and Cesare Zavattini.

First we have 'Adelina of Naples' - this is a very broad farce of 50 minutes with Loren enjoying herself hugely as the seller of contrabrand cigarettes in Naples, she stays out of prison by being continually pregnant, but after 7 kids her husband Carmine (Marcello) is worn out ..... this is all very amusing, and Vittorio is in his element too, some of the streets look familiar from his 1954 GOLD OF NAPLES.  The street urchins seem a bit too regimented though as they sing through the streets .... 
Then it is 'Anna of Milan' - which seems rather a parody of the Antonioni world, this is shot in a different style, as Anna the wealthy wife of an industrialist drives with her lover, but it turns out she is more interested in her car when he almost hits a child ..... a slight sketch (20 minutes) but amusing. Then maybe the best part, 'Mara of Rome', where Sophia is a call girl or well-to-do prostitute who gets involved with her neighbours and that young man who is thinking of becoming a priest, while her client Marcello gets more and more frustrated... then she does that striptease which leaves him whimpering. Its a fabulous apartment that overlooks the Vatican!

The success of this set up Loren and Mastroianni as a great cinema couple and their next one, 1965's MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE was even better, from the great Italian play "Filumena" by De Fillipo. Sophia is Filumena Marturano who tricks her longtime lover into finally marrying her as he thinks she is on her deathbed .... the bitter Filumena then tells him he is the father of one of her 3 sons, but will not say which. We get flashbacks of their wartime romance, how she runs his businesses, but he still won't make a respectable woman of her, and wants to marry someone else. He of course tries to find out which son is most like him ...
Domenico, a successful businessman, with an eye for the girls, begins an affair with Filumena when she is 17 years old. She becomes a prostitute, but also becomes the mistress of Domenico. He eventually sets her up in an apartment, and she works for him in his various businesses. She secretly bears three children, who are raised by nannys. Domenico starts planning to marry a young employee. Filumena tricks him into marriage by pretending to be dying. Domenico annuls the marriage. Filumena then tells him of the three children. She says that one of the children belongs to Domenico, but will not say which one is his. You start to believe that all of the children could be his, and Domenico then marries Filumena again, this time willingly. 
Both stars are at their best here, and it remains a marvellous movie. De Sica began to make less commercial movies though - we were not rushing to AFTER THE FOX or WOMAN TIMES SEVEN, and even SUNFLOWER with Sophia and Marcello again, in 1970, did not quite recapture them at their best here.  At least he had another great success with THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINI in 1971, as per my post on that - De Sica label.  Sophia and Marcello also had a great success with A SPECIAL DAY in 1977 (see Loren-Mastroianni labels), and tried that striptease again in Altman's damp squib PRET A PORTER in 1993.

Summer is on the way out here, there is already an autumn chill in the air, so we will finish our summer revivals this week, with those 2 versions of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY, some more Denueves and Pedro Almodovar. Autumn season will be catching up with Robert Hossein's films and Gerard Philipe's, plus some more Romy Schneider, and celebrating Peter Finch, Alan Bates and David Warner! and there's that Antonioni centenary on 29 September.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Summer re-runs: Epic or what !

Some thoughts on re-seeing QUO VADIS again yersterday, and also catching up with a 1959 biblical I had not seen: THE BIG FISHERMAN.
In the 50s Hollywood companies set up massive productions in Europe and brought last casts and crews to Italy and Spain. The cheaper European facilities and labour as well as tax breaks allowed for the release of once frozen capital that Hollywood companies had amassed in Europe.

QUO VADIS of course set the ball rolling in 1951, Mervyn LeRoy's spectacular is still an enjoyable treat now and its success at the time provided the impetus for a spate of costume epics. There is a world of difference between the Hollywood epic and the Italian peplum - the latter are made cheaply and the American ones are shot on a grand scale with a seemingly endless budget.
Elizabeth Taylor in Quo Vadis ?
In the USA Fox gave us THE EGYPTIAN, MGM THE PRODIGAL, Warners THE LAND OF THE PHAROAHS and Cecil delivered his TEN COMMANDMENTS for Paramount... and of course THE SILVER CHALICE and SIGN OF THE PAGAN - us '50s kids loved these. Then came those European-made ones like HELEN OF TROY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT (both keeping those British thespians like Stanley Baker, Harry Andrews, Peter Cushing busy), THE VIKINGS, SOLOMON AND SHEBA (more work for Harry and Finlay) and of course BEN-HUR - and then SPARATACUS and CLEOPATRA. Samuel Bronston too set up production in Spain with EL CID, KING OF KINGS, 55 DAYS AT PEKING and FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. These were set up by selling distribution rights throughout the world. His CIRCUS WORLD in 1964 was rather a flop and though its marvellous watching FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE now with its great sets (that fortress fort in the German forests!) and cast (Guinness, Mason, Plummer etc with Loren and Boyd, Sharif, Quayle et al) it did not perform that well at the time ... the next year's GENGHIS KHAN seemed rather tatty by comparison and sounded the death knell of the epic. George Steven's THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD while very visual and impressive, was rather out of touch in 1965 and had its risible moments (John Wayne!).  But by then it was a new era, the Swinging 60s were taking off, a new generation wanted a new kind of film entertainment, and the genre simply needed a rest - which it got until the dawn of the CGI era and GLADIATOR when epics did not seem 'real' any more.

Fleisher's BARABBAS from 1961 for DeLaurentiis is a good one to catch now too, with another great cast (Mangano, Quinn, Palance, Gassman etc) and some great set-pieces like that real eclipse of the sun. A stunning soundtrack too by Mario Nascimbene. All the great epics though have great soundtracks: would BEN-HUR be as good without the grandeur of that Miklos Rozsa score which perfectly accompanies the quieter scenes as well as the epic ones? and I loved that Alex North score for CLEOPATRA, that was a well-played soundtrack album. On the peplum front the likes of Steve Reeves, Belinda Lee and others went from film to film, as directors like Sergio Leone (the very inventive THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES) and Mario Bava learned their craft; see Epics label for my recent post on peplums like ATTILA, ULYSSES, APHRODITE etc.
Marina Berti

Back though to QUO VADIS - Peter Ustinov as Nero is surely the most scenery-chewing over-the-top performance ever?  But as I said in that recent post on De Mille's 1932 SIGN OF THE CROSS (Epics label) (where Charles Laughton is another very perverse Nero) the Christians are so holier than thou. Deborah Kerr is the pious Christian maiden whom hero Robert Taylor falls for - this one too has some good scenes in the arena and that cast of thousands ... the usual suspects are present: Finlay Currie, Felix Aylmer, Nora Swinbourne. Rosalie Crutchley is her usual compelling self too. AND the young Elizabeth Taylor was visiting the set and played one of the Christians in the arena - that great site PEPLUM found this photograph (above) of her on set. Also there was the 16 year old Sophia Loren (and her mother) somewhere among the slave girls - her first movie work; a decade later she would be headlining her own epics.  Leo Genn is good too and his love interest is the delightful slave girl played by the very attractive Marina Berti (left) (1924-2002) - she also pops up silently in BEN-HUR as Ben's ladyfriend (right) in the Roman scene (presumably to assert Ben's heterosexuality among all that Messala and Quintus Arrius male bonding..).

That 1959 biblical I had missed: THE BIG FISHERMAN, was totally turgid, seemed endless at two and a half hours, shot without closeups so it all seems to be happening in the middle distance - and it is a California biblical, so it does not have the look and feel of those Italian ones. An interesting cast is wasted too, though good to see Susan Kohner as our lead, disguised as a boy for a lot of the time, but John Saxon is unrecognisable under his costume, Howard Keel has nothing to play with, and the pairing of Herbert Lom and Martha Hyer (as Herod and his wife) (below) is interesting, but she too has too little to do. 
The best scene features the wind that suddenly arises and blows away their decadent party after the beheading of John the Baptist. But by the time Beulah Bondi is raised from the dead one is begging for the tepid melodramatics to finish .... but it was one I wanted to see, liking biblicals and peplums as I do. Its major point of interest is that it was directed by the great Frank Borzage, one of cinema's earlier visionaries with that poetic eye (THREE COMRADES, STRANGE CARGO, THE MORTAL STORM - which impressed me so much the first time I saw it on television decades ago). I will always enjoy a good epic or sword-and-sandal peplum, and can happily re-see my favourites anytime .... its what we grew up on in the '50s. If I had to choose one it would be the always-stupendous and majestic EL CID with its great visionary direction by Anthony Mann and those wonderful sets and cast and .... and again that great score...

I have to mention that guiltiest of pleasures: Cecil's 1949 SAMSON AND DELILAH, when Hedy as Delilah leads Victor in chains as Samson into the temple of Dagon and places him between the pillars ... how they laugh, but then the pillar moves .... George Sanders is sublime as he raises his goblet to toast Delilah as it all comes crashing down.  
The giant idol weighted 17 tons and was supported on lintels resting on plaster columns that were narrowed at the base and sent the whole structure, idol and all, toppling when pushed apart. Its almost as good as the pagan idol in THE PRODIGAL, 1955, where Lana (left) in that almost-there outfit is the high priestess guarding the flames ... in that one Edmund Purdom wrestles with a stuffed vulture, perhaps in hommage to Victor with the stuffed lion ... and as we mentioned before 1954's THE SILVER CHALICE is wonderful now, we were very impressed by Jack Palance here as the magician who thinks he can fly ....

Friday, 24 August 2012

Gene Kelly - 100 !

They couldn't get 100 candles on the cake
We are taking a moment to celebrate that Gene Kelly would be 100 this year - and of course any excuse to print another still from one of our favourite movies LES GIRLS from 1957. There's Taina, Kay and Mitzi with Gene above.

I have to confess I don't actually care for SINGING IN THE RAIN or AN AMERICAN IN PARIS that much any more, BRIGADOON is so-so, but I absolutely love every frame of 1955's ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER and LES GIRLS, Gene's last musical in '57 and that one is really about the Girls and not him. Of course he also directed Barbra in HELLO DOLLY which we like a lot more now than we did back in 1969 .... and then there's his terrific '40s films like ON THE TOWN (Gene always looked great in a sailor suit...) and his amazing physicality in THE PIRATE, no longer so under-rated.   So, a quick celebration of Gene then .... he may have been, by several accounts, a hard task-master to work with - but what remains is what is up there on the screen. 

I got close to Gene back in 1975 when he was recording a Michael Parkinson TV show for the BBC at the Mayfair Hotel here in London, which was a great show, and Gene signed my copy of that then new biography of him by Clive Hirshhorn, and was very pleasant. Left: another delirious number from THE PIRATE.
See labels for more on Gene and those movies
Gene, Dan, Michael and fantabulous Dolores Gray - Its Always Fair Weather, where's Cyd?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Summer re-runs: Harriet Craig's torch song

A delirious double-bill of Joan Crawford classics. I never saw HARRIET CRAIG until a year or so ago, and just had to have another look, as a visiting friend wanted to see the original CRAIG'S WIFE with Rosalind Russell, from the 1930s. That was "interesting" but Joan's 1950 version was so much more enjoyable. And we have teamed that with her 1953 musical - her first film in colour - TORCH SONG for MGM. This is an absolute lulu and perhaps THE Joan Crawford picture ... AND she followed that with my all time favourite (and the first film I ever saw, aged 8), JOHNNY GUITAR! Those other '50s classics FEMALE ON THE BEACH (Crawford label), AUTUMN LEAVES and THE STORY OF ESTHER COSTELLO followed and Joan saw out the '50s "as Amanda Farrow" in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, (several posts on that here..).  There will also be the delirious treat that is QUEEN BEE coming up soon... say what you like about her Joan certainly had a good run in the '50s (untl she too like Bette had to do some cameos, until BABY JANE arrived in 1962) and her films from then are hugely enjoyable treats now. They may define "camp" to some people ...
Dopey Wendall gets it in the neck again
HARRIET CRAIG is in  many ways the quintessential Joan Crawford vehicle. Harriet is the perfect wife. Beautiful and poised as a hostess, attentive and pretending to be deferential to her adoring husband, Walter (Wendall Corey).  Harriet runs their tastefully elegant home with ruthless efficiency. She does not cook nor clean, has no children or no job—she merely spends every waking hour harrying the staff and treats her poor-relation cousin Clare as free labour. All in the service of creating the perfect home.
Harriet though goes too far when she attempts to block her husband's promotion overseas and her lies soon catch her out. She also tries to break up Clare's possible romance as she considers her beau is not good enough. It turns out that Harriet sees marriage as a contract, a "bargain" which women have make to get a decent home - based on how she saw her own parents behave (as her father cheated on her mother). We wait with gleeful anticipation for Walter to finally realise what is going on, and perhaps he and that nice widow next door with that cute kid, could even have a future ....

Mistress and servant
The most delicious moment is when Walter comes home after finding out about Harriet's duplicity and lies on that hideous sofa and sees that vase he does not like on the mantelpiece. Slowly, he picks it up and casually lets it drop to the floor ... Harriet of course comes rushing down to see what happened - but no, I can't go on. Suffice to say Harriet is left what what she wanted all along - just her (she fired the knowing housekeeper earlier, and Clare walked out too...) and her house.  The usual Crawford role then:  a domineering woman attempting to manipulate the lives of those around her, and ably directed here by Vincent Sherman, who frequently directed Joan and Bette.
I also never saw TORCH SONG until that Crawford boxset a few year's back. It just never showed up here. As directed by Charles Walters it is giddy stuff from the start with Joan doing that number which the chorus boy (Walters himself) keeps getting wrong and as Joan says "spoiling that line". Here she is a Helen Lawson type beloved musical star: Jenny Stewart - we know she is beloved as every time she exits the stage door a gang of kids come rushing up for her autograph .... Jenny though is unhappy and lonely and alienates all her co-workers, despite her fabulous apartment and bedroom and all those creations she swans around in - will her new show be a success?, and this new pianist guy - he is blind, with a guide dog!  Jenny still has assert her authority though as they fight and snarl at each other. Then there is her boytoy - Gig Young (a service he performed for Bette back in OLD ACQUAINTANCE a decade earlier, and would go on to do for Kate in DESK SET in '56) who is "beautiful, but useless", as she puts it. Michael Wilding - that debonair '40s British leading man, from those Anna Neagle films and Hitch's STAGE FRIGHT etc, but now in Hollywood and married to young Elizabeth Taylor (not for long in either case, but he did end up with Margaret Leighton) - is Tye Graham the war veteran turned blind pianist, who remembers Jenny as "a gypsy madonna" from before he lost his sight. Jenny's wise mother Marjorie Rambeau wisely puts two and two together, in time for the big climax.
But first we have that typical Joan Crawford party - the guests are all men - and one of her musical numbers "Two Faced Woman" which is done in blackface (sorry, it was called "tropical tan") with a black wig. It gets pretty lurid when Jenny pulls the wig off at the climax showing her red hair - this and other songs like "Tenderly" are sung by India Adams (who also sang for Cyd Charissse, among others).  This one is definitely a camp classic .... I have written here about JOHNNY GUITAR a lot, so more soon on QUEEN BEE and FEMALE ON THE BEACH, and oh alright AUTUMN LEAVES...
Joan shows off those gams