This is a somewhat belated tribute, to yet another star of the silver screen. Aussie actor Rod Taylor (January 11, 1930 – January 7, 2015) arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s, and though he never achieved the fame of fellow countrymen like Errol Flynn (and, much later, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, etc), he did star in several big films, including Hitchcock’s The Birds, The Time Machine, Young Cassidy, 36 Hours (and, his last outing, Inglourious Basterds, in which he played Winston Churchill).
There are two traditions I’ve maintained on this blog ever since I began blogging. One is to celebrate my birthday with a pertinent post (coming up in two weeks’ time). The other is to, for Christmas, review a Christmas-themed film (of which there are examples aplenty). For once, though, the Christmas film I’ve chosen is one with a difference. It’s a Western, and – while it doesn’t have any actual blood and gore shown – there is death here. It’s not a sugary film, and even though the first half has its share of humour, the final impression is one of a bittersweet story of a world that isn’t quite black and white.
This post is a consequence of the last film review I did: that of the 1966 Dharmendra-Rajshree starrer, Mohabbat Zindagi Hai. A ‘marriage of convenience’ theme about an heiress who must marry in a hurry in order to inherit the wealth due to her—and chooses a man on death row as her husband, so that she can legally get her money, but is conveniently widowed. Only to find that things don’t quite work out the way she’d expected.
The connection with Dynamite, made nearly 40 years earlier, by the legendary Cecil B DeMille? This film, DeMille’s first full-length sound feature, has several similarities to Mohabbat Zindagi Hai: the rich female lead; the clause in a dead relative’s will requiring her to marry in order to inherit; the down-to-earth coal miner who is accused (and convicted) of murder and is chosen by the heiress as a temporary husband so that she can get her money…
Looking through the blog posts I’ve published over the past few months, I realized what a long time it’s been since I reviewed one of those Hollywood classics, the type of film that people tend to recognize the name of, even if they’ve never seen it, or even if the film didn’t win any awards. Or wasn’t, eventually, as in this case, all that great after all. But I wanted to watch The Last Time I Saw Paris for two reasons: one, it stars Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most mesmerizing faces in 50s’ Hollywood.
A very belated tribute to an actor I’ve actually seen only in a couple of films, but whom I like a lot: James Shigeta. The Hawaiian-born Shigeta passed away on July 28 this year, and it came to me as a shock a couple of days ago when I discovered that he was gone—and that no newspaper and none of the sites I occasionally visit—mentioned it. The news, however, made me remember the first film in which I saw James Shigeta: Flower Drum Song, one of his earliest films. Very different from his debut film (the superb The Crimson Kimono, one of my favourite noirs), but enjoyable in its own way—and an interesting commentary, both deliberate and unwitting, on immigrants in the US.
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
-Matthew 6: 28-29, King James Version
I am very familiar with this passage from the Bible (part of the Sermon on the Mount, this passage is part of one of my favourites—a beautiful little piece of scripture on how futile it is to worry), but when I first heard of the name of this film, the relevance of its title didn’t strike me. When I started watching it, I realized: yes, the lilies of the field are impermanent, evanescent, depending on no-one and yet not even doing anything very visible to keep themselves alive. But they—like all the flowers of this world, especially the wild ones, with no-one to care for them—are amongst the most beautiful of God’s creations.
Not an exact parallel with the protagonists of this heart-warming and sweet little tale, but close. And with some subtly-put messages about being content with one’s lot, yet pushing on, working hard.
Someone once told me “I don’t watch Westerns and war movies. Too much blood and gore, too little character development, and no message to take home. Nothing but guts and glory.”
True, if (and this is a very big, very emphatic if) the only war films or Westerns you’ve ever seen are the straightforward action types (and even among those, old films tend to be far less gory than their newer counterparts—modern Westerns and war films like The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, True Grit, etc are, on the whole, far more graphic than their predecessors). But there’s nothing to stop a film—irrespective of genre—from also being well-written, from having good characterisation and character development, and from being something more than a battle of “let’s see who’s braver”. Some of the best films—in fact, even the films that I’ve found affirming virtues like humanity, peace, equality, and so on—I’ve seen have been war films or Westerns: Paths of Glory, La Grande Guerra, The Searchers…
My point being, there are films out there that may seem, at first glance, deceptively run-of-the-mill genre film. Then, at closer inspection, they turn out to be something more.
The other day, scrolling through previous posts, I realised I hadn’t reviewed any Hollywood films for a while (to be honest, I’ve not even watched many Hollywood films over the past couple of months). I also realised that it’s been ages since I watched any films starring Tyrone Power, one of my favourite Hollywood actors. Time to amend that, I decided. So I got out a Power film I hadn’t watched before. An Irving Berlin production, replete with good songs and plenty of Ty candy.
…and it’s a historical, again!
Frequent visitors to this blog would probably by now have realised that I have a weakness for history and historical films. Give me a sword and sandals epic, a Mughal extravaganza, or just about any film set in the ancient, medieval, or even early modern world, and I’m happy. Even happier when it’s a somewhat unusual setting. And more when the film maker has spent two years researching the film.
The Egyptian is set in the Egypt of 3,300 years ago. The main story plays out as a flashback, the memories of old Sinuhe (Edmund Purdom), who looks back on his life.
Aka Indiscretion, which doesn’t sound quite so Christmassy (in fact, it sounds rather more like a Hitchcock film) but describes this one better. Because this film, while it is about an eventful Christmas in Connecticut, is more about an indiscreet little bunch of lies, and the amount of hot water they land their perpetrators in.