Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Two Classic Christmas Movies You Might Not Know

I’ve been away from my blogging due to Thanksgiving and travels, celebrating my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary, and getting the house decorated, cleaned for Christmas, and getting my gift shopping done.  Now that a lot of those activities have been dealt with, the quiet voice in my mind began to grow louder, “Get back to your Blog!” Hence today’s offering.

There have been a lot of movies made with Christmas as the theme or as the backdrop.  Many of these films are fan favorites: It’s a Wonderful Live, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, just to name a few.  I decided that for today’s purpose I was going to focus on some delightful Christmas movies, classics in their own right, but ones that might not be as well known to the movie viewing public.

First up, 1940’s Beyond Tomorrow. It stars some of Hollywood’s best character actors in their Senior years: C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger, and Harry Carey(former silent film star).  These three elderly gents portray life-long friends, engineers by trade, now retired and living in a NYC mansion.  They have a devoted housekeeper in Madame Tanya(another great character actress, Maria Ouspenskaya) and butler, Josef(Alex Melesh).

Beyond Tomorrow poster

It’s Christmas Eve, the three friends are about to enjoy a wonderful meal prepared for them by Madame Tanya, but they admit to one another that they are lonely, they’d enjoy the meal more if guests could join them.  They decide to gather their wallets, putting $10 and their business cards into each one, and plant them around the neighborhood.  Whoever returns the wallets will be invited to stay for dinner.  Michael(Winninger) is the optimist of the three men and he’s sure someone will return a wallet.  George(Carey) is the pessimist of the group and is sure no one will.  Chadwick(Smith) is the happy medium between the other two men’s personalities.  Two of the wallets are returned, one by a young Texan, James Houston(Richard Carlson), a struggling singer and the other by Jean Lawrence(Jean Parker), a clinic employee.    The two young adults agree to stay for dinner and it’s obvious that they are falling in love! They also become good friends with the three elderly gents and all seems cozy and right with the world.

The movie takes a jarring turn when  the three elderly gents tragically die in a plane crash!  Their ghosts come back to their mansion and only Madame Tanya can sense their presence.  Michael, in his will, had left Jimmy some bonds that he is able to use to launch his singing career and he also draws the attentions of a radio star, Arlene Terry(Helen Vinson).  Ghost Michael can see that Arlene is no good for Jimmy, and that Jean still loves him and is crying over him a lot.  He is bound and determined to find a way to reunite the young lovers before he has to go to Heaven.   It’s a sweet little film with an endearing cast.  From an original story and screenplay by Adele Comandini, directed by A. Edward Sutherland,  you can catch it via TCM on Thursday, December 18th, but you will have to set your dvr as it’s airing at 2:15 am Eastern/1:15 am Central.   Beyond Tomorrow is also available to purchase at Amazon, at TCM’s Shop, and a kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube.

My second movie to recommend is 1949’s Holiday Affair.  If the Hallmark Channel made romantic Christmas movies in 1949, this would have been at the top of their list!  Janet Leigh portrays Connie Ennis,  a young war widow with a 6 year old son, Timmy(Gordon Gebert).  She is employed by a large NYC department store as a “comparison buyer”; she pretends to shop at rival stores studying and taking notes about their merchandise, how it’s displayed, priced, and evaluates their sales staff.  One day she is at rival store Crowley’s and she is pretending to be interested in buying a toy train.  It’s the Christmas season, and the toy area is jam-packed with other shoppers.  The store clerk, Steve Mason(very handsome Robert Mitchum) wonders why this lady shopping for a toy train asks no questions about it and just buys it.  When Connie gets home she tries to hide the train as she is to return it the next day as part of her research on Crowley’s, and she doesn’t want Timmy thinking the train is for him.  That evening also brings by a visit from lawyer Carl Davis(Wendell Corey) who decides that after months of dating Connie, he is ready to propose to her.  Connie is in a dither, and after Carl leaves, she asks Timmy his opinion and he promptly tells her she shouldn’t marry Carl.   Holiday Affair poster

The next day, Connie tries to return the train at Crowley’s without a receipt. Steve has to handle the transaction and he says it’s against store policy to refund buyer’s money without the receipt.  Connie admits she is a comparison buyer and Steve threatens to turn her in to the store detective.  Connie then explains about being a widow with a son, and Steve reimburses her with money out of his own pocket.  A store manager finds out what Steve’s done and he is promptly fired.  Steve smoothly asks Connie to go for lunch with him and over lunch, she discovers Steve’s story and his ambitions to return to California and start up a sailboat building business with a friend.

This is one of those boy meets girl, boy loses girl, will boy get girl back?  Steve knows what he wants his future to look like.  Carl wants Connie to be his wife.  Connie is the character who doesn’t know which step to take.  She still has feelings for her dead husband, Carl seems like a safe choice to make as he has a good job but Timmy doesn’t like him, and then there is Steve, handsome, brash, and exciting.  TCM is going to air Holiday Affair twice: Sunday, December 21 at 4:00 pm Eastern/3:00 Central and on Thursday, December 25th at 12:15 pm Eastern/11:15 Central.

Holiday Affair was written by Isobel Lennart and directed by Don Hartman.  It is available to buy via Amazon, TCM’s Shop, and again, it’s been put on Youtube!

Mitchum, Gebert, Leigh, and Corey in a scene from Holiday Affair

Mitchum, Gebert, Leigh, and Corey in a scene from Holiday Affair

 

 

 

 

 

My Hometown Blogathon : Defiance, Ohio

Let’s Go to the Movies decided to host her very first blogathon and the rules weren’t too difficult to follow:  one could write about films set in one’s hometown, films made in one’s hometown, famous people in film who were born in your hometown, famous people in film who grew up in your hometown, and famous film folks who now live in your hometown.  My hometown has actually been featured in two films and a popular television show, so let’s delve into my hometown, Defiance, Ohio and find out what it’s connections to the entertainment industry are.

 

My Hometown Blogathon

In 1996 a family comedy film came to theatres, House Arrest, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Pollack.   It was written by Michael Hitchcock, who was  born in Defiance, Ohio but then moved to Western Springs, Illinois as a child.  He wrote House Arrest, setting the story in Defiance and named the characters after families he had known in Defiance.  I haven’t seen House Arrest but I recognized the surname Beindorf, which is the one of the families in the film’s last name.  Beindorf was the last name of the principal at Defiance Junior High School when I was a student there, 1977-1980. (At that time, our Junior High consisted of grades 7-9.)  Instead of  filming the scenes in Defiance, another Ohio city, Chagrin Falls, in the NE part of the state, was used as a stand-in.

Kids vs the Parents

Kids vs the Parents

Notice on Kevin Pollack's t shirt it says, "Defiance"! There is a college in the town so perhaps it was one of their t-shirts?

Notice on Kevin Pollack’s t shirt it says, “Defiance”! There is a college in my hometown,  so perhaps it was one of their t-shirts.

House Arrest is a cute movie, the premise is that four families are suddenly facing the fact that all of  their  marriages are on the rocks and  may end in divorce so the kids of these families somehow get their parents into the basement of the Beindorf family’s home, and lock them in there and tell their parents that they won’t be released until they agree to stop the various divorce proceedings.

Defiance, Ohio’s next brush with Hollywood came in of  April of 2001.   A book came out, The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio.  It was written by Terry Ryan, and it was the true story of how her mother entered many contests sponsored by advertisers in the 1950s and 1960s and won many of those contests.  She entered these contests  in order to find a way to keep an income coming into the home as she and her husband had 10 children to support and raise, and despite her husband, Kelly’s job, he often drank away much of his paychecks.    Many of these contests were jingle writing ones,  sponsored by advertisers of popular radio and television shows.   Mrs. Ryan, Evelyn,  used  her brains and  her strong writing skills,  and often won either money  or actual prizes  that she could sell for money to keep her family above water.  One contest was held by the local grocery store, Chief, and Evelyn  had to run through the store in a set amount of time  and load up her cart with free groceries-wish grocery stores had contests like that one today!   Terry had no idea how her book would be accepted by the readers of America but it did quite well, well enough for  screenwriter and director, Jane Anderson, to show interest in turning Terry’s book into a movie.

One of the movie's advertising posters

One of the movie’s advertising posters

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio with a picture of the Ryan Family on the cover

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio with a picture of the Ryan Family on the cover

My mom went to St. Mary’s Catholic School with Terry.  She said the Ryan kids were all really good kids, and yes, the town knew their dad had a drinking problem.  Their mother, Evelyn, was a nice lady.  Needless to say, when Terry’s book came out lots of folks in Defiance bought copies of it to read. When word got out that it was going to be made into a movie, lots of people were hoping it would actually be filmed in Defiance.  However, the favorable factor that filming in Canada would be cheaper to the studio won out and the movie was shot in various places in the province of Ontario!  Oh how disappointed the citizens of Defiance were, hoping for a movie to be filmed in their beloved town!  The stars of The Prizewinner of  Defiance, Ohio  are Julianne Moore, as Evelyn Ryan, Woody Harrelson as Kelly Ryan, and Laura Dern as Dortha Schaefer, a friend of Evelyn’s.  Terry Ryan and one of her sisters, , Betsy, make cameo appearances in the film.  Terry got to see the finished film but sadly passed away in 2007 from cancer.

My hometown, Defiance, Ohio has also appeared on the hit ABC television show, Scandal.   My dad is a huge fan of the show and during season 2’s run, he’d tell me how the  Defiance, Ohio voters were using illegally rigged touchscreen machines, and the unknowing citizens’ votes  gave the election to  President Fitgerald  Grant!  I had to laugh and laugh and laugh about this plot!  Out of curiosity, and thanks to our Roku box and Netflix, I began to watch Scandal, season 1 and then the infamous season 2 with it’s Defiance, Ohio storyline.  I laughed when I saw the high school(that’s  not what our high school looks like!), and the fact that the voting machines were stored in some utility building near a baseball field!   I still tease my Dad a bit about this “voting” scandal that highlighted my  hometown for a couple of months, on a fictional television show.

 

Scandal

My last bit of Hollywood fame for my hometown was that Bob Hope’s son  married a local girl there, at the church I grew up attending, to boot!   A young woman from Defiance, OH, Judith Richards, went to Wellesley College and after graduation, went to Harvard Law School and earned her law degree.  Sometime in the pursuit of her degrees, she met and fell in love with Bob Hope’s son, Anthony.  The Hope’s were Catholic and the wedding was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, in December of 1967.   Defiance was all agog as celebrities descended to attend the wedding ceremony: Bing Crosby and his wife, Katherine, Liza Minelli, Toots Shor, and Phyllis Diller, to name a few.  Mrs. Crosby even went to one of the downtown’s local drugstores to purchase something and had no cash on her so she wrote a check, which the store proudly displayed for several years!

Settled in the flatlands of NW Ohio, a small city of 16,000 with tinier towns nestled around it, fields of corn or soybeans dotting the area during the Spring and Summer, a General Motors foundry town, Defiance, Ohio has done remarkably well in being tapped for Hollywood mediums of entertainment.

What A Character Blogathon: Edna May Oliver

Last year I participated in an excellent blogathon, featuring  character actresses and actors  who had shined so brightly in classic movies.  I enjoyed writing my piece on Eric Blore, and decided that this time around, I would focus on a female character actress and my pick is Edna May Oliver.  Be sure to visit these awesome classic movie loving gals and their blog sites to read about more wonderful character actors and actresses: Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled, and Once Upon a Screen.

what-a-character-2014-02

Edna May Oliver was born on November 9, 1883 in Malden, Massachusetts.  She could also claim being a descendent of 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams.  The acting bug bit Edna May, but as to exactly when or how, I couldn’t find that information.  However, her parents let her quit school at the age of 14 to pursue her interest.  She must have taken piano lessons as a child because one of her earliest professional gigs was the piano player for an all women band that traveled the country in 1900.

Edna May Oliver

Edna May Oliver

The stage was her first area of acting work and in 1917, she achieved acclaim for her part of playing  comic, spinster Aunt Penelope in the Jerome Kern musical hit, Oh Boy!  Jumping ahead to 1927, Edna May starred in the original cast of another Kern musical,  Show Boat, playing Parthy, the wife of Captain Andy Hawks.  In between these stage roles, movies did beckon Edna May and her first film role was in a silent flick, 1923’s Wife in Name Only.  Her last film role was in 1941’s romance drama, Lydia.

With her height of 5’7″, a long face, and a voice that could speak in low tones, Edna May often found herself cast as the grumpy or comical aunty, depending on a movie’s tone.  She found a lot of fame in the 1930’s playing such a character, often speaking very witty lines and knowing how to do the perfect eye-roll at another character, and sometimes breaking that fourth wall and giving that look at the audience.  Hollywood in the 1930s went on a  bit of a Literature roll, making movies from famous books,  and Edna May was cast in several of those films, giving superb performances, often stealing every scene she was in!

Edna May sadly died at the age of 59 in 1942, on her birthday.  It’s a shame that she exited this world when she probably still had a lot of talent to put forth into future movie and stage roles.  What follows is my list of her roles that I have seen; the roles are in chronological order:

Headshot of Edna May for Ladies of the Jury

Headshot of Edna May for Ladies of the Jury, doing that eye-roll!

 

1932-Ladies of the Jury-Edna May plays rich socialite Mrs. Livingston Baldwin Crane, who lands on a jury of a murder trial.  A comic take on a more famous, and made much later movie, 12 Angry Men.  Mrs. Crane seems a bit of an airhead at first, but she is allowed to  ask questions of those testifying on the witness stand from the jury box,  and her questions are quite good.  She is able to convince her fellow jurors that this case isn’t as open and shut as they think it is, and it’s a fast-moving little film, with the good receiving exoneration and the bad receiving their just punishments.

Edna May and her co-star, James Gleason

Edna May and her co-star, James Gleason

Edna May as Hildegard Withers in the Penguin Pool Murder

Edna May as Hildegard Withers in the Penguin Pool Murder

1932-Penguin Pool Murder-RKO bought the rights to a popular crime/mystery book written by Stuart Palmer.  The plot was about a spinster schoolteacher, Miss Hildegarde Withers, at the NYC Aquarium with her elementary school students when a murder happens and the body is found at the Penguin Pool.  James Gleason(another great character actor in his own right) plays Police Inspector Oliver Piper, who is assigned to solve the murder and he reluctantly accepts the insights and help of Miss Withers.  Edna May and Gleason had a great chemistry with each other and this movie was a box office success.  Edna May and Gleason teamed together, reprising their roles in two more murder mystery films: 1934’s Murder on the Blackboard, and 1935’s Murder on a Honeymoon.

Edna May as Aunt March, doling out some advice to Jo, played by Katherine Hepburn

Edna May as Aunt March, doling out some advice to Jo, played by Katherine Hepburn

1933-Little Women, playing Aunt March.  Hollywood gives Louisa May Alcott’s classic book the film treatment.  Oliver is wealthy, grumpy, highly-opinionated Aunt March.  She holds her own quite well in her scenes with Katherine Hepburn, the film’s lead, playing Jo March.  If you have only seen the 1949 version or the 1994 version, you owe it to yourself to see this earlier depiction.

Edna May in her Red Queen costume

Edna May in her Red Queen costume

1933-Alice in Wonderland, playing the Red Queen.  Paramount Studios decided to make a film of the classic children’s book Alice in Wonderland, and make it a show case with an all-star cast.  Oliver is delightfully dippy as the Red Queen.  While I wouldn’t call this a stellar presentation of Carroll’s tale, it is fun for classic film fans to view in order to pick out the all-stars in their crazy costumes and make up!

Playing Aunt Betsey and providing a safe haven for young David

Playing Aunt Betsey and providing a safe haven for young David

1935-David Copperfield, playing Aunt Betsey.  Charles Dickens’s famous novel is turned into a very good film and Oliver is superb as Aunt Betsey, who provides a haven for young David as he runs away from his evil stepfather, Murdstone, played in an effectively creepy way by Basil Rathbone.  Here’s a clip of the scene where Oliver delivers a scathing tongue lashing to Murdstone as he has dared to come to her home and try to take David away from her.

1935-A Tale of Two Cities, playing Miss Pross.   Hollywood’s version of another classic work of Dickens’s.  Set against the back-drop of the French Revolution, it is a film full of different characters. Oliver is Miss Pross, the devoted maid ot Dr. Manette and his daughter, Lucie.    One character, Madame DeFarge, is chillingly evil, sitting on the sidelines knitting while watching enemies of the Republic die on the guillotine.   She is also an informant, telling those high up in the Revolution where enemies may be hiding, awaiting their chance to escape from France.   In a crucial scene, it is up to Miss Pross to deal with Madame DeFarge in order to keep Pross’s beloved Manette family protected.  While the clip I found is in dubbed Italian, it is still a fun example to show that Oliver wasn’t afraid of a physically demanding scene!

As nurse to Shearer's Juliet

As nurse to Shearer’s Juliet

1936-Romeo and Juliet, playing Juliet’s nurse.  It’s Shakespeare’s turn for one of his famous plays to get the Hollywood treatment.  While I think Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer were a bit old to play the star-crossed teenaged lovers, they did a commendable job.  Oliver is a great nurse, having fun in some early comedic scenes and then appropriately somber in the later parts of the film as the tragedy draws closer.

Playing Mrs. McKlennar in Drums Along the Mohawk

Playing Mrs. McKlennar in Drums Along the Mohawk

1939-Drums Along the Mohawk, playing Mrs. McKlennar.  John Ford directed this look at life in Colonial America pre-American Revolution, when the colonists had to deal with attacks on their new settlements from the Native Americans.  Oliver plays Mrs. McKlennar, a feisty farm woman who is helpful to newlyweds Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  For this role, she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar at the 1940 Academy Awards.

As Lady Catherine de Bourgh, giving Elizabeth Bennett a piece of her mind!

As Lady Catherine de Bourgh, giving Elizabeth Bennet a piece of her mind!

1940-Pride and Prejudice, playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  Jane Austen’s turn for one of her classic novels to get a movie depiction.  Oliver is a wonderful Lady Catherine, imperious and very opinionated who doesn’t want her nephew D’Arcy(Laurence Olivier) to marry anyone but her sickly daughter.  When Lady Catherine finds out D’Arcy is in love with one Elizabeth Bennet(Greer Garson), Lady Catherine storms her way to the Bennet’s home to confront Elizabeth to dissuade her from accepting any marriage proposals her nephew might make to her.  This is a fast moving look at Austen’s famous book, and while not as faithful an adaptation as the 1995 version that stars Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, or the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, I like what the screen writer, Aldous Huxley of this 1940 version,  did near the end with Lady Catherine’s character.  It lessened the dragon lady image of her character in a satisfying way.

I will end my look at Edna May Oliver, extraordinary character actress with a tribute video that was made for Turner Classic Movies a couple years ago and still airs from time to time.  Enjoy!

 

Ever After : For the Fairy Tale Blogathon

My Friday blogs are usually about a classic (old) movie that I enjoyed and want others to know about and try to see.  Today’s blog is also about a movie, but  a newer one, 1998’s Ever After, a refreshing new look at Cinderella, starring Drew Barrymore as the main character.  Today’s blog is also my contribution for  The Fairy Tale Blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently.  Be sure to visit that site to read other great pieces written by other bloggers,  for a look at fairy tales in the movies.

Fairy tale blogathon

Ever After opens  with two gentlemen leaving a carriage to enter a beautiful chateau.  They are none other than the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm(Joerg Stadler, Andy Henderson).  They have arrived at this chateau to interview Grande Dame Marie Therese(Jeanne Moreau) to compare their story of Cinderella with what she knows about the true story of Cinderella.  The Grande Dame is descended from the real Cinderella, whose real  name was Danielle de Barbarac.  Out of a treasure box, the Grande Dame takes out the glass slipper(designed for the film by Salvatore Ferragamo) and from that point forward the real story of Cinderella is told via flashback.

Ever After poster 1

Famous French actress Jeanne Moreau is Grande Dame Marie Therese

Famous French actress Jeanne Moreau is Grande Dame Marie Therese

The beautiful glass slipper

The beautiful glass slipper

 

Drew Barrymore is Danielle.  She plays the part with sincerity, courage, bravado, a lot of  smarts, and some necessary sass.  This isn’t a retelling of the Disney animated version so there are no songs, no pumpkin is magically changed into a carriage, no mice become horses, no fairy godmother.  This version is told as  historical fiction; a story that  the Brothers Grimm researched and then  changed into a  fairy tale.

Danielle and her beloved Papa

Danielle and her beloved Papa

We first meet Danielle when she is 8 years old.  She is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her beloved Papa(Jeroen Krabbe) and his new wife and her two little daughters.  Danielle is a smart girl, a tomboy, and she gets into a mud battle with her neighboring playmate, Gustave, which  doesn’t make  a good impression on her new stepmother, Rodmilla de Ghent(Anjelica Huston) or her two daughters, Marguerite and Jacqueline.  Papa gives Danielle a book as a gift: Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.  He also tells her he has to go away for a week on another business trip but to use that time to get to know her stepmother and stepsisters better.  Danielle promises to try and on the morning of her papa’s departure, he falls from his horse as he nears the main gate to his property, and dies of a heart attack.  Amid Danielle’s broken-hearted sobs, stepmother Rodmilla is crying, but crying out for Auguste to  not die and leave her in this new place alone.  We begin to see the true nature of Rodmilla in this scene.  She notices as Auguste lays dying that he strokes Danielle’s face and tells her he loves her, but he doesn’t tell Rodmilla anything so dear.  That will lead to her jealousy of Danielle, and we see how much Rodmilla dislikes the new home and community that she has moved to.

Anjelica Huston has a field day playing the evil stepmother, Rodmilla

Anjelica Huston has a field day playing the evil stepmother, Rodmilla

Marguerite, the mean stepsister(Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline, the nice stepsister(Melanie Lynskey)

Marguerite, the mean stepsister(Megan Dodds) and Jacqueline, the nice stepsister(Melanie Lynskey)

The film then jumps ahead 10 years and now Danielle is 18, working as a hired hand at her own home, and she has to bravely fight off a man who is trying to steal one of her late papa’s horses.  She succeeds to knock the thief from the horse with some well aimed apples and the thief reveals himself to be Prince Henry(Dougray Scott) who is on the run.  His father, King Francis,(Timothy West) has arranged Henry’s marriage to a Spanish princess and Henry wants no part of it.  Running away is Henry’s solution and he needs a fresh horse.  Danielle immediately apologizes for her behavior to the prince and he forgives her, and hands her a bag of gold coins to cover the cost of  the horse.  Danielle rejoices at receiving the coins and shows them to the two older ladies in her house’s kitchen.  A husband of one of the ladies  had been recently sold as a slave to cover some of Rodmilla’s debts, and Danielle puts on her finest dress and goes to the King’s castle herself, with the coins, to buy back her servant before he is shipped away to America.  In arguing for her servant to be freed, Prince Henry arrives back at the castle after being caught by his father’s men, and Henry decides to debate this new maiden about poverty, about those who turn to a life of crime, and a rich man’s responsibilities to his fellow “rustics” as he calls them.  Henry doesn’t recognize Danielle in her finery and he is intrigued by this “mystery” girl.  He tries to find out her name and Danielle lies, telling the Prince that she is Comtesse Nicole de Lancret, her mother’s maiden name.    As he is about  to make a date to visit this girl, his mother, Queen Marie(Judy Parfitt-now playing the addle-headed nun on Call the Midwives!) arrives to greet him and Danielle successfully uses this moment to slip away from Henry and his prying questions, and escape a date with him.

The Royal Family: King Francis(Timothy West), Prince Henry(Dougray Scott), and Queen Marie(Judy Parfitt)

The Royal Family: King Francis(Timothy West), Prince Henry(Dougray Scott), and Queen Marie(Judy Parfitt)

Danielle apologizing for knocking Prince Henry off the horse

Danielle apologizing for knocking Prince Henry off the horse

Danielle debating Prince Henry after rescuing her servant

Danielle debating Prince Henry after rescuing her servant

Danielle has 3 servants loyal to her: Maurice, Paulette, and Louise.  They aid her a lot, especially when she is freed from a pantry/dungeon by none other than Leonardo DaVinci(yes, that DaVinci!) and her childhood pal, Gustave. Danielle-pretending to be Comtesse Nicole, does have several dates with Prince Henry which cause them to fall in love with one another and they also get to battle a band of Gypsies!  There is also a  villain in this film, Pierre Le Pieu(Richard O’Brien), and he is  creepy and evil.   He wants Danielle to be his wife due to the land and house that she owns that can be added to his coffers.    Danielle is, of course, able to outwit this baddie.  He comes into the film in the last half hour and he’s so crude as he tries to seduce Danielle that  for this reason, I cannot recommend Ever After for the entire family to see.  I would say teens and adults can, but not the kiddies!  Perhaps fast-forward thru the scenes with the icky Pierre if kids are watching this film with you.

Pierre Le Pieu- Ever After's evil baddie

Pierre Le Pieu- Ever After’s evil baddie

Danielle's new friend, Leonardo DaVinci, with the painting she inspired him to create

Danielle’s new friend, Leonardo DaVinci, with the painting she inspired him to create

Danielle's pal, Gustave

Danielle’s pal, Gustave

Danielle's loyal servants greeting the rescued Maurice

Danielle’s loyal servants greeting the rescued Maurice

Other than Pierre, I really enjoyed this movie.  It was filmed on location in France, with many scenes shot in the outdoors with natural lighting that shows the sparkling sun, scarlet and golden leaves falling from the trees, the french countryside.  It’s a very pretty film to view.  The costumes and sets are period perfect and Huston gets to wear some  sky-high headdresses!

As I said, Barrymore is spot on with a Cinderella that is refreshing and not the singing girl who is demure and can get mice to sew her a dress.  The rest of the cast are also excellent in their roles.  Anjelica Huston is the evil stepmother,at first  displaying her evil nature in sneaky, quiet ways, but growing more physical in her meanness as the story advances.    Megan Dodds plays Marguerite as a mean, snot of a girl.  Melanie Lynskey plays Jacqueline as a nicer stepsister who knows her mom and sister are bad, but is clueless as to how she can stop their wrong ways.    Dougray Scott is rugged and dashing as Prince Henry, but he is also  a conflicted young man.  He wants to live his life on his own terms, find his own wife,  but also wants to show respect to his parents.  He loves Comtesse Nicole(Danielle) and at the same time  is exasperated  and challenged by her intellect  and the debates they always seem to fall into.  I think it was  a coup for the casting agents to get the superb French actress Jeanne Moreau to play the Grande Dame, who opens the film and brings it to a satisfying close.   Yes, this film does have the ultimate Happily Ever After ending, but there are a few detours that pop up before that ending arrives.  The screenplay was written by Susannah Grant, Rick Parks, and Andy Tennant, who also directed the film.  It was a Mireille Soria production and released to theatres by 2oth Century Fox.   I have to also recognize the music for this film, by George Fenton.  It was beautiful, medieval sounding at times, and exciting during various chase scenes.  It just enhanced the flow of the film so well.

I was able to view Ever After through the magic of my Roku box and Amazon Prime streaming. It is probably available at your local movie dvd renting store, it’s at Amazon.com for purchase and a kind soul has put the movie up on Youtube in 10 minute installments.

I’ll close with some more scenes from this delightful look at a classic fairy tale.

Danielle pretending to be the Comtesse on a date with Prince Henry

Danielle pretending to be the Comtesse on a date with Prince Henry

Danielle finally arrives at the Ball

Danielle finally arrives at the Ball

Happily Ever After

Happily Ever After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Life With Father

I must have been 11 0r 12 years old the first time I saw the 1947 film Life With Father.   I remember enjoying this old movie that I stumbled upon one afternoon.  The movie was funny, it was shot in gorgeous technicolor and  the side-plot of whether or not Father would ever get baptized was amusing to me.

Life With Father

 

When I next rewatched the movie, as a college student, I realized that a young Elizabeth Taylor was in this film and a very young Martin Milner, pre- Route 66 and Adam-12 days.  I knew by this point that the parents were played by William Powell, who was pitch perfect as the bombastic father, Clarence Day Sr. and the lovely Irene Dunne was  excellent as the  loving, but fiscally- challenged  wife, Vinnie.  I also learned  that Life With Father actually had its beginning as a book, written by Clarence Day Jr.  From this book came a Broadway play and then the hit film.  When I learned that blogs The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel’s Theatre Reviews were hosting a blogathon devoted to stage plays that were turned into films, I decided to participate with Life With Father.  Be sure to visit the two sites in order to read about more movies that began life on the stage!

 

Stage to screen blogathon

Owning my late grandmother’s encyclopedia set from 1957 I was able to find a bit more info on  the real Clarence Day Jr.  Born in 1874, he grew up in  New York City, his father, Clarence Day Sr., nicknamed Clare, was a stockbroker.  Day’s grandfather, Benjamin H. Day founded the New York Sun newspaper.  Clarence Jr. grew up in an upper middle class family, graduated from Yale, and went into the same brokerage firm where his father worked.  Clarence Jr. joined the US Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War, but afterwards he became afflicted with crippling arthritis and had to live the rest of his life as a semi-invalid.  During this time, Clarence Jr. began writing and his first major literary success was a book, God and My Father.  Next came the book, Life With Father, a humorous look at life in 1890s New York City with his domineering, loud, but lovable father and the rest of the Day family.    Clarence Jr. died in 1935, and several more of his books were published posthumously.  The 1937 book, Life With Mother, was also successful and in 1939, Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse wrote a play based upon God and My Father, Life With Father, and Life With Mother.  What was astounding is that this new play, Life With Father, was such a hit with audiences that it ran for over seven years to become the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway.

Warner Brothers brought the rights to the play in order to turn it into a film and Donald Ogden Stewart wrote the screenplay.  Michael Curtiz directed, and in addition to William Powell and Irene Dunne, as Clarence Sr. and Vinnie, they were joined by: Jimmy Lydon as Clarence Jr., Martin Milner as John, Johnny Calkins as Whitney, and Derek Scott as the youngest son, Harlan.  Zasu Pitts portrays Vinnie’s cousin, Cora, visiting from Ohio, and Elizabeth Taylor plays Mary Skinner, a  traveling companion of cousin Cora’s.  Edmund Gwenn is Reverend Dr. Lloyd, who has to carefully deal with an unbaptized Clarence Sr., and maids for the family are played by Emma Dunn, Heather Wilde, Mary Field, Queenie Leonard, and Nancy Evans.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan.  Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan. Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The film is fast-moving, with various plots woven throughout it, all leading to the climax: will father get baptized or not?  While this might not seem funny, and may seem downright boring, it is told with humor and wit.  William Powell’s performance is the glue that holds this story together and he was so good in the part that he was a Best Actor nominee at the Academy Awards in 1948.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell’s Clarence Day Sr. is in his late 40s, and he works at an efficient office.  He believes that his home should also be run in an efficient manner, and when it isn’t-which is quite often-he feels compelled to honestly let all in the house know how displeased he is with this inefficiency.  He is loud, curt, and a bit oblivious to the fact that his wife, Vinnie, is really running things at home the way she wants them run.  Powell’s Clarence adores his wife and even though she can frustrate him, especially when she doesn’t understand purchasing items on credit and keeping to the budget he has set up, he still worships the ground she walks on.  A running gag in the film is the Day family’s inability to keep housemaids.  The maids are all afraid of Mr. Day, especially when he makes a loud outburst about something that has displeased him.  One maid, a new Irish immigrant, takes it as a bad sign that the Day’s are all redheads and when Mr. Day let’s loose with a loud complaint, this new maid quits.  Vinnie scolds Clarence Sr. for scaring off yet another maid so she says he has to hire the next one.  When Clarence Sr. gets to the employment agency to hire a new maid, the employment agency representative tells him, “Sir, before I can let any girl go from this establishment, I must know the character of the home in which she will be employed.” To which Mr. Day replies, “Madam,  I am the character of my home!”

Whitney saying his catechism

Whitney saying his catechism

Cousin Cora’s visit, which Vinnie knew about but forgot to tell Clarence Sr., is an irritant to him.  He doesn’t like the fact that they are putting Cousin Cora up at their house for a week and he rails against it, as he isn’t running a hotel.  He isn’t also happy that Vinnie has told Cora that they are taking her and Mary, her traveling companion, to Delmonico’s for dinner, a meal that Clarence Sr. doesn’t want to have to pay for as he believes the restaurant is too expensive.

Tolerating Cousin Cora's visit

Tolerating Cousin Cora’s visit

Father with his sons

Father with his sons

The sons, especially the oldest two, Clarence Jr. and John, add to the swirling plots of the film.  Clarence Jr. hates wearing his father’s old suits and wants a new suit of his very own.  He is hit with the love bug when he meets Mary Skinner and feels awkward around her if he’s wearing one of father’s suits.  He gets the urge to act like father would act and this upsets poor Mary!  John, always looking for a way to earn money, hires Clarence Jr. to help him sell a new medicine door to door.  Then Clarence Jr. will earn enough money to buy himself a new suit.  Unfortunately, John decides to give his mother some of the medicine and it doesn’t help Vinnie at all, in fact she becomes very sick and the doctor has to be called.

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

"Get off my lap!"

“Get off my lap!”

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Whitney, the third son, is practicing his catechism in order to be confirmed in the Episcopal church the family attends.  During one of his practice sessions, Clarence Sr. admits that he’s never been baptized.  This news horrifies Vinnie and she asks him to get baptized or they won’t be reunited in Heaven.  Clarence Sr. scoffs at this notion, stating that God wouldn’t be able to keep him out of Heaven!  This dilemma even leads Vinnie to wonder if their marriage is legal!

Since this film, though autobiographical in nature, is mainly a comedy, you can  rest assured, there are happy endings for all of the characters.

"This film is a delight!"

“This film is a delight!”

Life With Father is available to purchase or even watch on instant rent at Amazon.  It’s also available through TCM’s Shop and through Netflix.   Also, the entire film is available to see on Youtube!  For a funny, endearing movie the whole family can watch, and with one of William Powell’s best performances, seek out Life With Father!

LWF poster 2

 

My Classic Movie Pick: 49th Parallel for the O Canada Blogathon

When I learned that Speakeasy and Silver Screenings, two classic movie bloggers I enjoy reading, decided to host a blogathon honoring Canada, our kindly neighbor to the North, and its contributions to the film industry,  I jumped at the chance to participate.  Be sure to visit these two bloggers’  sites to read other fantastic pieces  about Canada and her film industry contributions through the years.

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After seeing some films made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger,  a British director and screenwriter/producer respectively, and being very impressed with their work, I decided to seek out more of their films to view;  their greatest amount of film work was in the 1940s-1950s.  In 1940,  Powell and Pressburger were  asked by the British government to make a propaganda film to help Britain’s war efforts and the suggestion was to make a film about mine sweepers.  Powell said he’d rather make a propaganda film that would wake up America from it’s neutrality.  Pressburger took Powell’s idea and came up with the screenplay;  a propaganda film that would scare the Americans and wake them up to the dangers of Nazi Germany being on their doorstep.  The  film idea was approved by both the British and Canadian governments and the film was shot on location, in Canada.

49th Parallel opening shot

49th Parallel refers first to the boundary that separates Canada and the United States and the film opens with a large map of the North American Continent, zeroing in on this boundary, showing how far to the West and then how far to the  East it stretches, a boundary between two friendly countries.   After the short geography lesson,  the movie jumps right into its plot and the story moves along fast, with lovely views of the Canadian lands in all of their vast differences.

U-boat 37, with it’s German crew, has been successfully sinking  trading ships in Hudson Bay.  After one  encounter with the surviving crew of a recently sunken ship,  the U-boat commander calls up 6 of his crew and tells them that they’ve been selected to be a raiding party, get to the shore, find supplies and information, kill if they have to.  After the 6 have made it to shore, they watch in horror, amid the cheers of the surviving crew in a lifeboat, as  Royal Canadian Air Force planes arrive on the scene, to rescue the crew, and to bomb  U-boat 37.  The 6 men are: Lieutenant Hirth(Eric Portman), Kuhnecke(Raymond Lowell), Vogel(Niall MacGinnis),Krantz(Peter Moore), Lohrman(John Chandos), and Jahner(Basil Appleby).   Their leader, Lieutenant Hirth, decides that they must make their way across Canada, to evade capture, and then make their way into the neutral United States and ask to be taken to the nearest German Embassy.

A lifeboat with surviving crew members of the latest trading ship the U-boat sunk

A lifeboat with surviving crew members of the latest trading ship the U-boat sunk

Eric Portman as Lt. Hirth, leader of the 6 men

Eric Portman as Lt. Hirth, leader of the 6 men

The 6 receiving their orders

The 6 receiving their orders

U-boat 37 is destroyed

U-boat 37 is destroyed

 

The 6  begin their trek and they encounter different groups of Canadians in  different parts of the vast country.  The first group they savagely take advantage of are three men at a fur trading post: Factor(agent for the fur company-Finlay Currie), Nick, the Eskimo cook  and handyman(Ley On), and Johnny, the French Canadian trapper(Laurence Olivier).   Tensions rise as the 6 Germans brusquely demand food, weapons, ammunition, and money.  Nick is cruelly bludgeoned by a rifle butt and is left on the floor to bleed, Factor and Johnny prevented from helping him.   Lt. Hirth states  incredibly racist comments about the Eskimos and American Blacks, which he says he read in Mein Kampf.  At one point, Johnny, exasperated by all of the info from Mein Kampf, pointedly states that though he and his two friends are from different ethnic groups they are all Canadians!  More violence erupts during a radio chess game that occurs nightly between Factor and a friend in Michigan, as Johnny takes a chance and yells for help that the 6 escaped U-boat men are holding them hostage.  Vogel shows a sign of human compassion when he gets Johnny his requested rosary to hold as he lays on a bed suffering from a gunshot wound.  Lt. Hirth had earlier refused to get the rosary and shares his strong atheist view that there is no God.  It is a telling sign that Vogel defies his superior officer by getting that rosary.   More deaths occur in the morning as the 6 Germans hijack a supply plane but as they escape into the air, Jahner is shot in the back by an Eskimo.  After flying for several hours, the plane is out of fuel and crashes into a lake below.  The men make it to shore, but Kuhnecke, who had piloted the plane, dies of a sudden heart attack.  Now the group of 6 has shrunk to 4 men.

"I'm Canadian, he Canadian, and he Canadian!"

“I’m Canadian, he Canadian, and he Canadian!”

Johnyy trying to tell Hirth that the Nazis are wrong

Johnny trying to tell Lt. Hirth that the Nazis are wrong

After trudging along a road heading west, with vast fields of wheat on both sides of them, the 4 Germans presently see a barn in the distance.  Vogel, Krantz, and Lohrman  notice a blonde girl working in the farmyard as they get closer.  Lt. Hirth directs Vogel to talk to the girl, Anna,(a very young Glynis Johns) and he discovers that they are in a commune, a Hutterite Community.  The Hutterites are a religious group that evolved from the same religious reformation that the Ammish and Mennonites came from in the 1500s.  The Hutterites came from Austria, before moving to Russia and then on to Canada and the Northern Great Plains of the United States.  You can read more about them here.    Lt. Hirth finds their communal way of life utterly ridiculous, as well as their religious beliefs but since Hutterites are descended from Germans, and they speak, read, and write German, he decides at an evening meeting to stir these people up and invite them to unite with he and his 4 men, to join the Reich and add to the great Aryan race.   The Hutterite leader, Peter(Anton Walbrook) begins a quiet rebuttal of all things Nazi.  It is a masterful scene of good acting, with a quiet yet strong voice that gets louder and more forceful as he lets Hirth know that there is no way the Hutterites would ever join the madness of the Nazi party.  Anna has developed a bit of a crush on Vogel, and the news that he is a Nazi greatly upsets her.  Vogel, who was a baker  in Germany before the war, critiques the new Hutterite baker’s work and shows him how to make better bread.  Vogel seeks out Peter and tells him that he is tired of the war and wants out.  He tells Peter that he’ll turn himself in to the local law enforcement.  Peter tells him that that will mean time in an internment camp but Vogel is ready to accept that if afterwards he can come back to the Hutterites and join their community.  Lt. Hirth discovers Vogel’s plans and puts a stop to it.  Now the group of U-boaters is only 3.

Peter becoming more forceful with his rebuttal

Peter becoming more forceful with his rebuttal

The begining of Peter's speech to Lt. Hirth

The begining of Peter’s speech to Lt. Hirth

Peter trying to ease Anna's fears about the Nazis in their midst

Peter trying to ease Anna’s fears about the Nazis in their midst

Vogel telling Peter he wants to quit the Nazis and join the Hutterites

Vogel telling Peter he wants to quit the Nazis and join the Hutterites

The 3 Germans keep walking west on long roads and run into a motorist who needs help changing a flat tire.  After knocking the man out and stealing his car, they make their way to Winnipeg and  a train station, and wind up at a major stop with all of the other train riders who get off to  attend a “National Gathering of Tribes”.  The helpful conductor tells Lt. Hirth that it is an interesting event and not one to miss.   Hirth, Lohrman, and Krantz reluctantly get off the train and split up, trying to blend in with the crowd.  Suddenly, a Canadian Mountie makes a special announcement. He tells the crowd(who hush immediately at his request-so polite!) that 3 of the U-boat escapees are thought to be in their area of Canada and could be in the crowd at this moment!  He gives out their descriptions, and mentions that one is holding a package wrapped in oilcloth.  He encourages all in the crowd to look at all of the people standing near them and a man recognizes Lohrman due to that package!  Lohrman tries to run but  is caught and arrested by the Mounties and taken away.  Now there are only 2 U-boaters.

A mountie and the crowd at the National Tribes event

A mountie and the crowd at the National Tribes event.  Lt, Hirth is in the dark hat, looking right at the Mountie!

Vancouver is the destination Hirth wants he and Krantz to head for.  Since they ran when Lohrman was arrested, they are soon lost in the woods near the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  Luckily for them, they meet British author Philip Armstrong Scott, who happens to be camping nearby and has lots of supplies, horses, and several guides with him.  His kindness and love of the arts  is rejected by Lt. Hirth as the signs of a wimpy, weak man.  As Hirth and Krantz destroy Scott’s writings and other belongings, they tie Scott up, gag him, and try to steal the horses. This is a bad idea as the horses and their noises alert the guides to find out what’s happening and they rescue Scott.  Lt. Hirth and Krantz flee and go in different directions.   The guides and Scott march into the woods and soon find Krantz and Scott gets some nice revenge.  Now Hirth is on his own to try and get to Vancouver.

Being rude to Scott

Being rude to Scott

Tying up Scott

Tying up Scott

Lt. Hirth and Krantz lost in the Canadian Rockies

Lt. Hirth and Krantz lost in the Canadian Rockies

Hirth is next shown on a plane, flying east.   We next see him hiding in a boxcar in Ontario, as  Canadian soldier, Andy Brock(Raymond Massey), who is absent without permission,  is being allowed to ride in the box car on his way back to his base.  Hirth is discovered by Andy and as Andy realizes Hirth is one of the U-boat Nazis, a scuffle happens between the two and Hirth knocks Andy out.  When Andy recovers his consciousness, he finds Hirth  wearing his uniform and  holding a gun on him.  The boxcar is soon examined by Canadian Customs Agents before it is sent over the border at Niagara Falls into the US.  Hirth’s gun keeps Brock quiet during the check.   When the box car reaches the US Custom Agents,  Hirth hands his gun over and  demands to be  taken  to the German Embassy.  The Customs Officials are flummoxed as they realize that  Hirth is from that U-boat, but not to fear!  Brock  comes up with a brilliant plan.  He points out that he and Hirth are locked in a freight hold box car and that they aren’t on the manifest.  Therefore, their freight car must be sent back to Canada to get the manifest corrected.  The Customs Officials agree and as Hirth shouts at them to send him to the German Embassy, Andy Brock rolls up his sleeves in order to prepare for his punishment of Hirth.

Lt. Hirth forcing Brock to keep quiet

Lt. Hirth forcing Brock to keep quiet

I like this film for it’s views of Canada.  Skeets Kelly and Henry Henter-Creer shot the film and they made the most of showing the wintry land around Hudson Bay, the vast prairies of Manitoba, and grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, the various lakes, and the nightlife businesses of Winnipeg, circa 1940.

I like this film for the fast-paced storyline. It doesn’t wander much from the goal of Lieutenant Hirth and it was no surprise to me when I found out that future movie director David Lean edited this film.

I also cheered when I watched the credits and saw that the music was conducted by Muir Mathieson and performed by the London Symphony.  Mathieson was a talented musician in his own right and was responsible for the music in many wonderful films.

I liked this film, of course, for the actors and Ms. Johns.  Eric Portman is superb as the icy, chillingly evil Lieutenant Hirth.  He believes in Nazism, in Hitler, hates God and all who believe in Him.  There is a funny scene at Philip Armstrong Scott’s camp where Hirth and Krantz can take a shower.  It’s an outdoor shower, but nicely set up with hot water and cold water, in separate buckets, with pull ropes on each bucket. Krantz wisely pulls on both buckets to get warm water for his rinsing off but Hirth scoffs at him and states he’ll only use cold water and despite his stoic toughness act, he lets out a shriek due to the coldness of the water.

Laurence Olivier, as Johnny the French Canadian trapper, gets top billing in this movie, as evidenced by some of the movie posters I saw when researching the movie. Some critics  made fun of his attempt to sound French Canadian, but I’m not an expert on that accent so I can’t judge if his effort was truly bad or not.  His performance is sincere and  touching.

Niall MacGuinnis  is good as Vogel.  He is physically the largest of the 6 man crew, and at first one assumes he is going to be the somewhat slow, dim, but loyal member of the group.  We start to see his character’s doubts about the war and Nazism when he gets Johnny’s rosary, when he folds his hands in prayer after Kuhnecke’s death by heart attack despite getting a hateful glare from Lt. Hirth, and the full change happens to him at the Hutterite Community.

Anton Walbrook, who was Austrian in real life, fled Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s and headed to England.  His speech against Nazism is really from his heart and it shines through on the film.  By his request to Powell and Pressburger, half of Walbrook’s fee for doing the film was given to the International Red Cross and his costars, Olivier, Leslie Howard, and Raymond Massey all agreed to work for half of what they would normally have been paid since they felt it was an important film to make, to help get America into the war.

Leslie Howard is great as the British writer of books about Native American tribes.  He is so consumed with his work he doesn’t pay much attention to  news or world events and this air of obliviousness causes Hirth and Krantz to underestimate him as a weakling.  It is a tense, yet satisfying scene as author Scott  and his guides track Krantz’s hiding spot in a cave and despite Krantz firing shots at Scott, who is unarmed,  Scott calmly approaches the cave, counts off the shots fired, and despite  getting hit in the leg, manages to grab Krantz and beat the daylights out of him, amazing his guides!

I was able to view 49th Parallel via my Roku box and Amazon Prime.  The film is shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies and it is available through their TCM Shop, a Criterion Collection dvd.  It is also available for sale through Amazon, or view it through their instant rent program.  Also, some kind soul has put the entire film up on Youtube.

Lastly, one of the movie posters used to advertise this movie was somewhat misleading and a bit funny, to me.  One poster showed Oliver, Howard, and Massey looking muscle-bound, walking at an upward, front-facing angle, ready to use their physical might to take on the evildoers.  In real life, muscle-bound isn’t the word or image that comes to my mind when I think of Leslie Howard, Laurence Oliver, or Raymond Massey!  Plus, this poster shows Olivier carrying Glynis Johns in his arms, saving her from something.  In the film, their characters never meet!  The other movie poster used  was a bit more subdued.

Please find 49th Parallel and discover a gem of a film, a love letter to Canada, it’s land and it’s people.

The wacky movie poster!

The wacky movie poster!

The better movie poster

The better movie poster

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Arabesque

During the month of August, Turner Classic Movies aired their annual “Summer under the Stars” where they air one specific actor or actress’s films for each day of that month.   Sophia Loren, the beautiful actress from Italy, was one of  their featured stars  so  I decided to  tivo one of her films that I had never seen before.   I chose  1966’s spy thriller film,  Arabesque.   Her co-star, was the incomparable Gregory Peck.   When I pulled up  the film this week and started watching it,  child #3, commuter college student, happened to be home and as he saw Peck on the screen, he exclaimed, “It’s Atticus!”  remembering Peck’s Academy Award winning turn as lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I laughed and said that Peck was playing a far different character than Atticus in Arabesque.

Arabesque poster 1

Peck plays Professor David Pollack, a visiting American professor teaching at Oxford University, specializing in hieroglyphics.   One of his respected and older colleagues is called away  for an eye check-up and Peck fills in for this Professor, Dr.  Ragheeb.  The eye exam, unknown to Dr. Ragheeb, is  conducted by a Mr. Sloane, who is really an undercover agent.  During the eye exam, Sloane places  dilating drops  into Dr. Ragheeb’s eyes and he suddenly dies in much agony! ( This scene made me think that Arabesque did for eye doctors what the movie Marathon Man did for dentists!! )   Dr. Ragheeb had hidden in his eyeglasses a hieroglyph-coded message and Sloane snatches it.

Sloane, who is working for Arab shipping leader Nejim Beshraavi, contacts Professor Pollack to invite  him to come to Beshraavi’s digs in London and translate the hieroglyph.  Pollack tells Sloane that he’s not interested but when he is contacted by Middle Eastern Prime Minister Hassan Jena to accept Sloane’s invitation, Pollack agrees as he has a high opinion of Prime Minister Jena.  Jena tells Pollack that Beshraavi is up to something and whatever it is it might be a threat to his country’s national security.

Meeting Prime Minister Jena

Meeting Prime Minister Jena

Pollack arrives at Beshraavi’s house and is told that he can’t leave until the translation of the hieroglyph is done.  As Pollack looks around the sumptious library/den where he’s been left to begin working on the translation,  in saunters the beautiful Sophia Loren, playing Yasmin Azir.  It turns out that she owns the house, Beshraavi is her boyfriend, and could Pollack please help her zip up her nighty??  Pollack is immediately attracted to Yasmin but he also learns that Beshraavi is very jealous of any other man who might take Yasmin’s affections away from him so Pollack knows he has to tread carefully where Yasmin is concerned.

Zipping up her nighty!

Zipping up her nighty!

During a dinner at Yasmin’s that night, she is able to slip Pollack a newspaper clipping about Dr. Ragheeb’s death.  Yasmin is able to excuse herself from the dinner stating that she has a splitting headache.  Pollack excuses himself from the dinner stating that he needs to get back to his translating work.  Another dinner guest tells Beshraavi that in 2 days Prime Minister Jena is expected to sign a treaty that will have negative effects on Beshraavi’s shipping business.  Beshraavi doesn’t seem to be too worried about this fact.

Fun begins to ensue as Pollack meets Yasmin in her bedroom to find out what she knows about Dr. Ragheeb’s death.  Yasmin tells Pollack that Beshraavi ordered Ragheeb’s death to get that hieroglyph and that as soon as it’s translated, he’ll order Pollack’s death!  A knock at the door reveals that Beshraavi is there wanting to see Yasmin!  She tells Pollack to hide in her shower.  Then she quickly puts on her robe and tells Beshraavi to come in, that she is about to take a shower.  He tells her to go ahead, he’ll wait there for her to finish this task.  With no choice presented to Yasmin, she takes her shower, much to Pollack’s surprise and amusement.  She keeps her backside to him(we don’t see it but it’s implied) and Pollack stays huddled at the far end of the shower.  It’s an incredibly huge shower-6-7 people could stand in it and have a cocktail party!

That gigantic shower!

That gigantic shower!

With chase scenes that remind one of scenes from North by Northwest, Sabotage, and an assassination plot like the one in The Man Who Knew Too Much ,  Arabesque is a fast, fun,  spy thriller.  Peck, as Pollack,  is great as the somewhat nerdy, cautious professor who gets caught up in this international espionage mess.  Loren, is gorgeous, smart, and a pawn of Beshraavi and of another spy.  She seemingly double-crosses Pollack, but it does get explained as to why she would do such a thing and she and Pollack are cute as they obviously are falling for one another.  The ending scene, in a tiny boat, even seemed to me a bit of a nod to the end of the James Bond movie, Dr. No.   Loren also wears some gorgeous clothes in this film, made by Christian Dior and she got to keep all of them after the film was finished.  What a nice perk!

Near the end of the film, in a tiny boat.

Near the end of the film, in a tiny boat.

A dazzler of a dress that Loren wears in the dining room scene.

A dazzler of a dress that Loren wears in the dining room scene.

A chic white dress and hat ensemble Loren wears for the Ascot scenes.

A chic white dress and hat ensemble Loren wears for the Ascot scenes.

Alan Badel  plays Neshraavi.  I wasn’t familiar with his work at all and he wears dark sunglasses throughout the entire movie; I at first thought he was Peter Sellers!  Badel is good as the main villain of the film, at first charming, then menacing.  A bit of a creepiness in the way he hangs around Yasmin, but wouldn’t we expect that out of the villain?  The rest of the cast gives fine performances too: Kieron Moore as Yussef, John Merivale as Sloane, Duncan Lamont as Webster, Carl Duering as Prime Minister Jena, and George Coulouris as Dr. Ragheeb.

Beshraavi may be a creepy baddie, but he gives out great massages!

Beshraavi may be a creepy baddie, but he gives out great massages!

With opening credits displayed over splashes and wild bending rays of colors, music by Henry Mancini, I knew Arabesque was going to be an enjoyable ride and it was.  Very creative cinematography by Christopher Challis-watch the scene when Sophia descends a staircase and we see her from a sideview, through the myriad of crystals hanging from a chandelier.  Or poor Pollack’s drugged out pov when he’s been forcibly given a truth serum that doesn’t give another set of baddies the answers they want.  Very interesting shots to view and they caused my son to utter, “Atticus!” again!  Produced and directed by Stanley Donen, with screenplay by three writers: Pierre Marton, Julian Mitchell, and Stanley Price.  Based on  the book The Cipher, by Alex Gordon.

Arabesque is available to purchase through Amazon on a regular dvd; not a blu ray issue.   It’s available through Shop TCM in a 5 dvd set of Gregory Peck films, and here’s a trailer that was shown back in 1966 for the film courtesy of Youtube.

For a fast-paced spy thriller with gorgeous Sophia Loren and Gregory Peck in a different role than a fatherly, lawyer type, check out Arabesque!

 

Arabesque poster 2

 

 

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