Posts Tagged ‘John Loder’

The Great Villain Blogathon 2017


I succeeded in getting one of my twin daughters to watch a classic film with me, Now Voyager.  I had filled her in as to what some of the plot was about.  I didn’t reveal much of the film’s love story, but I certainly did tell my daughter, “Just wait until you meet the mother in this movie! With a mom like this, who’d need enemies!!!”  My daughter did like the film, and agreed that the mother was awful.  That is why the villainess I am focusing on for The Great Villain Blogathon 2017 is Mrs. Henry Vale, deliciously played by British character actress, Gladys Cooper. 

Cooper, in her  native England, was a child actress on the stage, a model noted for her beauty. As  an adult, she continued as a  stage actress, and eventually made it into the movies, often playing rich women who were extremely cranky about something that their children were doing, or cranky at the adults around her not doing her bidding because, after all, she’s the richest woman in town;that’s her character’s m.o. in another great film, The Bishop’s Wife, but she doesn’t stay villainous in that film.

Gladys Cooper in her modeling days in England.

In Now Voyager, we only know a bit about her character.  She is Helen Vale, 70-something(80, perhaps?) matriarch of the Vales of Boston, living in a fab house on Beacon Hill.  She has 3 adult sons, all married and prosperous in their own careers, and they dote on her.  Then there is a daughter, Charlotte, her youngest child and a “surprise” baby, or as my mom would say, a “change of life” baby.  Charlotte is at least 15 years younger than her brothers and was a baby when her  father died.  This death of her husband has turned Helen bitter.  She is bitter that her husband is gone, and it’s as if she had decided that Charlotte’s only purpose in life was to be her constant companion.  We  see a flashback of a 20-something Charlotte(wonderfully played by Bette Davis) on a cruise ship falling in love with a young officer, who stands up to Helen and declares he is going to marry Charlotte.  We see Helen severly scolding Charlotte for being caught making out with the officer and Charlotte trying to act as if she doesn’t care that she was caught.   The film then jumps to present day, and Charlotte, now in her thirties and still living at home with Helen.  Charlotte is very plain, wears old-fashioned dresses, sensible shoes, glasses, no make-up, and a dull, dowdy hairdo.  Helen approves of Charlotte’s looks.  Charlotte tries to rebel by secretly smoking!

Poor, plain Charlotte!

One of Helen’s daughter in law’s, Lisa,(Ilka Chase) knows that Charlotte could be facing a nervous breakdown and that something must be done to help her.  Lisa has a friend, a psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith(Wonderful Claude Rains) who agrees to come to the Vale home to meet Charlotte and give her an evaluation, to see if she should come to his sanitarium in Vermont for a rest and for help.  Lisa is honest with Helen, and tells her why Dr. Jaquith has come, and all Helen can care about is the fact that no Vale has EVER needed to seek out mental help! That one should feel shame for seeking out such help!

Fortunately, Charlotte has a nervous breakdown in front of her mother, sister-in-law Lisa, Dr. Jaquith, and her niece, June(Bonita Granville).  It is a fortunate event because it forces Charlotte to admit she needs help, and she goes to Dr. Jaquith’s sanitarium for that help, despite her nasty mother’s unending grumblings!

I won’t give away anymore of the plot, but in her way, Charlotte is able to kick Helen’s will to the curb and develop her own! Yeah, Charlotte!

Gladys Cooper is so good at playing this horrid mother.  She is wrapped up in her own self, her own will as to how her family should function, and anyone who defies her had better be ready to run for the hills!  We don’t learn much about her husband, other than he was from the honorable Bostonian family, the Vales.  He was obviously wise at money-management as Helen and their daughter, Charlotte,  don’t want for anything materially.  Helen’s sons, we only see in the movie once,  are very polite to their mother and seem to fear her.  Lisa seems to be the only in-law who knows how to deal with Helen without a hint of fear; granddaughter June, Lisa’s daughter, also seems to have no fear of her grandmother.  The key to Helen is when she recites to Dr. Jaquith how put upon she has been with Charlotte being born to her later in life, her husband dying when Charlotte was a baby, and one expects her to lash out at the doctor that Charlotte has a life of ease, that it is “Me, me, me!” who should be pitied!  Dr. Jaquith disdainfully lets Helen know that she is entirely at fault for turning her daughter into a scared frump of a woman! Go, Dr. Jaquith, go!!

The imperious Helen Vale, giving an unwanted opinion, no doubt!

To only give a bit of the plot away in order to showcase Helen at her most manipulative, Charlotte has indeed gotten a lot better under Dr. Jaquith’s care and with his help and Lisa’s, Charlotte departs the sanitarium to try her new life via a lovely cruise  vacation.  Charlotte returns  to Boston with a new look: new hairdo, makeup, clothes, gorgeous shoes, jewelry, perfumes….and Helen is not happy!  She is so shocked and horrified by this  new and improved Charlotte that she demands Charlotte put on one of her former dowdy dresses for the family dinner  being held to welcome Charlotte home.  Charlotte starts to quaver, then resolutely tells Helen, “No” and off she goes downstairs in a lovely gown to oversee the dinner preparations. Helen is incensed! She goes to the head of the stairs and throws herself down them in order to give herself an injury to draw the family’s attention to her!!!  Her plan doesn’t work, as she’s put to bed, seen by the doctor, and is sedated by the nurse’s hot toddies with the secret ingredient of rum.  It’s funny seeing Helen ranting about the lack of concern for her as she could hear the family’s laughter from downstairs and then she starts to mumble as the toddies take their affect!  Mary Wickes had a  fun role as the in home nurse the family has hired to care for Helen.

Our first glimpse of the new and improved Charlotte, no more sensible shoes!!!

A transformed Charlotte!

Charlotte politely refusing to change her dress for the family dinner.

For a great study in an evil mom character, check out Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Helen Vale in Now, Voyager, and don’t ever ask her for any fashion advice!!!!   Here is a great clip from the film, courtesy of TCM.  Now, Voyager will also be shown by TCM this weekend, April 28th at 4:15 a.m. Eastern time/3:15 a.m. Central time.

This post has been for The Great Villain Blogathon 2017, hosted by 3 wonderful classic movie bloggers: Kristina at Speakeasy, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  Please visit their blogs to read other great posts about movie villains!

 

 

 

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My Classic Movie Pick: Sabotage, for the Hitchcock in Halloween Blogathon

I have  enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock’s films and was delighted to learn about Backlots tribute to the director in Hitchcock for Halloween Blogathon.   I decided to focus on the 1936 film, Sabotage, as I appreciate much of Hitchcock’s earlier films, the films he made while still living in England, before Hollywood came calling.Alfred Hitchcock on Halloween 2013

Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel, The Secret Agent, which concerns a spy, his anarchist comrades, and their terrorist acts,  Hitchcock took the contents of the novel and moved it from the 1880s to 1936.   The film revolves around 4 characters:  Karl Verloc, his wife, Mrs. Verloc, Stevie, the teenage brother of Mrs. Verloc, and Sgt. Ted Spencer, from Scotland Yard.  While not exactly a “horror” movie, it is suspenseful and takes a look at human evil, with the wanton destruction of innocents by terrorist acts. As I watched the film for the second time, it struck me that the three main adult characters all have secrets.  Hitchcock's Sabotage

Karl Verloc(Oscar Homolka) is a seemingly mild-mannered movie theatre owner, an immigrant to London, considered nice by all of his neighbors and associates.  We find out early on that he is not as he seems, that he is caught up in an anarchist group, doing deeds of sabotage in the city for money.  We aren’t sure if money is his main reason for doing these evil acts for the group or if there is more behind his motives.  Homolka, who I had only known previously for his turn in 1948’s I Remember Mama, as blustery Uncle Chris, is much younger in this 1936 movie.  He gives a great performance as a conflicted man, nice on the outside but inside, full of darkness, and justifications for his evil acts.

Verloc pleased that his act caused a London blackout.

Verloc pleased that his act caused a London blackout.

The luminous Sylvia Sydney plays Mrs. Verloc.  She reveals that she married Verloc when they lived in America, not for love but for security and gratefulness as Verloc agreed to let her younger brother, Stevie, live with them.  We don’t know why she has the sole care of her brother and can only assume that her parents are deceased and that she is Stevie’s only living relative.  Ms. Sydney’s large eyes grab the audience in her gaze  and she uses them masterfully to express and emote; confusion, bewilderment, and shock.  An alternate title for the film was A Woman Alone which put more of the plot on Mrs. Verloc’s shoulders, but I like the Sabotage title better.  To me, that title encompasses all of the characters much better.     I did read in my research that Sydney didn’t enjoy working with Hitchcock so this was their only collaboration.

The Luminous Sylvia Sydney as Mrs. Verloc.

The Luminous Sylvia Sydney as Mrs. Verloc.

Stevie(Desmond Teeter) is perfect as the happy-go-lucky, but awkward teen brother of Mrs. Verloc.  With his mop of unruly, wavy hair, his gangly build, he’s the perfect picture of teenage boyhood.  Eager to please his sister and her husband,  happy with his lot in life as far as we can tell, what happens to him is utterly heartbreaking.

Stevie doesn't know what he is delivering!!

Stevie doesn’t know what he is delivering!!

Sgt. Ted Spencer(John Loder) is undercover, working as an assistant at a greengrocer’s shop nextdoor to Verloc’s movie theatre.  Scotland Yard, Spencer’s employer, has gotten hints about an ararchist group that Verloc possibly is a  member of.  Spencer has been put at the greengrocer’s shop in order to keep tabs on Verloc and to ingratiate himself with the family.  What he hasn’t counted on was a growing attraction to Mrs. Verloc, whom he wants to try and protect at all costs in case it is proven true that her husband is an anarchist and terrorist.

Sgt. Spencer, undercover, takes Mrs. Verloc and Stevie out to lunch.

Sgt. Spencer, undercover, takes Mrs. Verloc and Stevie out to lunch.

I looked for HItchcock’s cameo shot and missed it.  There are a lot of crowd scenes so I am assuming he is in one of those.  Cinematically, what caught my eye were:  the opening shot of a page from a dictionary showing the definition of the word Sabotage,  a light bulb filmed up close, showing its brightness, then a cut to London at night, all lit up, and its citizens happily moving here and there to whatever interests are theirs for the evening,  another quick shot of that lighbulb, only now it’s dimming and then goes out, followed by a second shot of London, of Big Ben, all going dark.  Instead of hysteria, the plucky Londoners find candles, matches, torches(flashlights for us Yanks) and happily continue on their way.  Then there is  another quick shot of men at a power plant examining machinery and they find sand had been put into it, “Sabotage!”, one of the men exclaims.    Verloc arriving home, sneaking in so his wife, running the ticket booth won’t see him.  He washes off his hands in the bathroom sink and we see sand left behind in the sink, and we know, he is the one who commited the sabotage at the power plant.  Another scene that caught my eye was when Verloc has met his anarchist contact at London’s Zoo to find out about the next terrorist job.  He has been ordered to deliver a bomb and told who to get the bomb from.   After the anarchist has left the Zoo’s aquarium  where this latest plan was discussed, Verloc stares at a tank of fish and before his eyes it turns into a group of London buildings that collapse in an explosion, and then this imaginary scene turns back into the fishes swimming in a tank.   Lastly, there is the building of suspense as Stevie has been asked by his brother-in-law to unknowingly take a part in the terrorist act, with quick shots of Stevie traveling to a destination to make a 1:30 pm delivery,  getting waylaid on his journey by traffic jams, a parade, a street vendor, and cuts to various clocks showing the time.   Shots of Stevie, to a clock, and back and forth builds the tension and suspense to a fever pitch.  Then the movie has a bit of a calm before the final storm, when Mrs. Verloc realizes that is up to her to stop her husband.  With the arrival of Scotland Yard, another anarchist, and Sgt. Spencer, the films ends quite differently than Conrad’s novel does.  Hitchcock's poster 2

Sabotage is shown now and then on Turner Classic Movies, it is available to purchase or view on instant rent at Amazon.com,  and it is also available to see via Netflix and it’s also on Hulu.  I highly recommend it for the Hitchcock movie fan in your life and it would make a great addition to their movie collection if they don’t have it already!

For a look at an great Hitchcock film prior to his output in Hollywood, look for Sabotage!

Here is a movie poster showing the alternate title.

Here is a movie poster showing the alternate title.