The Reluctant Widow (1950)

Based on a novel by Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors, and when, the other day I discovered that one of Heyer’s books had been made into a film, I managed to find a copy on YouTube. Though the hard-coded Greek subtitles on this copy are a little distracting, at least I was able to watch The Reluctant Widow, aka The Inheritance.

The film begins on a night in the English countryside. Elinor Rochdale (Jean Kent), who has just gotten off a stage coach, is hailed by a groom with a carriage, asking her if she has come in answer to the advertisement? Elinor says yes, so she gets into the coach and is taken to (as she assumes) the home of Mrs Macclesfield, who has employed Elinor as a governess for her young son. Elinor, once wealthy, is in sadly reduced circumstances since the death of her father, and with nowhere to go and no other means of keeping body and soul together, has chosen to work.

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Murder Most Foul (1964)

Agatha Christie is one of those writers I can depend upon to invariably entertain. Often, her books are downright brilliant; the occasional book may not quite match her own standards, but it’s a rare book that is so bad I would regret reading it.

It goes without saying, then, that I am always game for a film based on an Agatha Christie novel. Murder Most Foul is based on Christie’s Mrs McGinty’s Dead; the book was the 25th in the Hercule Poirot series, though the film (directed by George Pollock, with a script by Jack Seddon and David Pursall) made Miss Marple the detective.

The story begins late one night, as a village constable goes about his rounds. He heads for a pub (which is closed, but where he’s obviously expected). At the window, the policeman is handed a mug of beer, which he downs happily, while sitting at a bench outside. He’s so engrossed, he never realizes there’s high drama silhouetted in a nearby window.

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The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first Sherlock Holmes mystery I read: an abridged version of the book was there in our home when I was a child, and since I was a voracious reader, always looking for ‘new’ books, I read it fairly early on. Later, I slowly made my way through whichever other Holmes stories I came across, and finally, in my twenties, I bought the complete Sherlock Holmes, the omnibus edition. There are many Holmes stories that I like a lot, but this one, I must admit to a special fondness for.

When Popka Superstar mentioned this film the other day (as part of a list of favourite Christopher Lee films), I decided it was high time I watched it.

The film begins with a voiceover, a narrator describing a scene set many years earlier. Near Dartmoor, abutting the Great Grimpen Mire, lives the dissolute, debauched Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley). On a dark night, he and his equally evil friends are whooping it up at Baskerville Hall; they’re drunk and in the mood for cruelty. Baskerville has forced his butler’s daughter upstairs and locked her in a room; when the butler protests, Baskerville thrashes him…

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Anna Karenina (1948)

I have very, very vague memories of watching a Russian version of Anna Karenina years ago—it had been telecast on Doordarshan, with subtitles, and I, probably barely a teenager back then, understood very little of it.

But last year, having finally got around to reading Tolstoy’s novel, I decided I should find a cinematic adaptation to watch. Just to see how a screenwriter might interpret this pretty sprawling work (not as sprawling as War and Peace, but still). I read, in several places, that at least as far as English-language cinema is concerned, the 1935 Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo, was considered the best version there is. Despite much searching online, I couldn’t find a copy of it (the ones that were there were dubbed in other languages), but I did find this one, made thirteen years later and starring Vivien Leigh as Anna.

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Three Men in a Boat (1956)

Today is World Book Day, so it seemed appropriate to post something related to books: a review of a film based on one of my favourite books.

I must have read Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat when I was in my early teens. A not-quite-story of three men who go down the Thames in a boat, along with their dog. Many descriptions of the countryside, of sights to see and places to visit. Several reminiscences of various events and incidents that aren’t even part of this trip. No romances (and yes, I must admit to having been a fairly typical teenage girl in being quite addicted to romances). Three Men in a Boat, seen only from that limited point of view, would not have sounded like a novel that would appeal to me.

But it did. And how. I laughed my way through all the adventures, the madness, the utterly hilarious trip that this was. Jerome K Jerome (who, by the way, was amazingly versatile, writing very well in various genres, including horror) brought to Three Men in a Boat a humour that I find irresistible. He’s very witty, of course, but what makes that humour even more brilliant for me is the fact that it’s so relatable. The circumstances, the incidents, the dialogues: all could have happened to one of us; what makes Jerome so hilarious is that he manages to exaggerate the nuttiness just that wee bit that turns it utterly hilarious. Something as simple as what happens when two men try to put up a tent in pouring rain; or when they get together to pack for a trip…

How would that translate into a film? I have always been a little sceptical, since much of the humour of Three Men in a Boat lies in Jerome’s language, in the brilliant way he looks at everyday incidents through that deliciously witty lens of his. The story itself is bare of a plot of any sort.

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An Inspector Calls (1954)

…at the home of the wealthy and respectable Birling family, just as they finish dinner.

The Birlings have been dining with a guest: Gerald Croft (Brian Worth) has just got engaged to the daughter of the house, Sheila Birling (Eileen Moore). Gerald has got her a wonderful ring, and there’s been much love and affection and congratulations being showered all around.

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To Sir, With Love (1967)

RIP, Sidney Poitier.

When I heard the news of Sidney Poitier’s death (on January 6th, 2022), one of the first thoughts that came to me was: what a sad coincidence, that the last English-language film I’d reviewed on this blog was one of his (The Bedford Incident). Then, the realization that, in so many years of blogging, while I’ve watched and/or reviewed several films of Poitier’s (including the wonderful Lilies of the Field, for which he won an Academy Award; The Long Ships; The Defiant Ones), I’ve never seen a few of his most iconic films, such as In The Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and A Raisin in The Sun.

I will watch those sometime, sooner or later; but for now, to commemorate the life and career of one of my favourite actors, I decided to rewatch a film I haven’t seen in several decades. The film that’s probably the one with which most Indians (at least) associate Poitier, about a school teacher who manages to change the lives of the disturbed and insecure students he has to teach.

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Black Narcissus (1947)

Today is the birth centenary of one of my favourite actresses, the superb Deborah Kerr. Born on September 30, 1921, Deborah Jane Trimmer got a break in the world of show business thanks to an aunt who was a radio star: Deborah began training in ballet at her aunt’s ballet school, and then went on to win a scholarship to Sadler’s Wells ballet school, which led to her appearing onstage as a dancer. Deborah soon came to the attention of the film producer Gabriel Pascal, who gave Deborah her first role in cinema, in Major Barbara (1941).  

Till 1947, Deborah worked in Britain; it was her role as Sister Clodagh in Black Narcissus that got her noticed across the pond and brought with it a contract with MGM. Over the decades that followed, Deborah Kerr became a name to be reckoned with in Hollywood as well: a major actress who went on to play very varied roles in very diverse films. From roles in classic adventure films (The Prisoner of Zenda, King Solomon’s Mines) to horror (The Innocents), from wartime romance-drama (From Here to Eternity, Heaven Knows Mr Allison, Vacation from Marriage – the last-named, in fact, was the basis of the very first review I ever posted on this blog) to musicals (The King and I) to period drama (Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Julius Caesar) to classic romance (An Affair to Remember) and many more… Deborah Kerr was always memorable, always likeable.

Which film should I watch to commemorate Deborah Kerr’s centenary? I have watched a good deal of her filmography (some more beyond the films I’ve already listed in the previous paragraph), so I decided I’d finally watch a film I’ve long been hearing praises of. Black Narcissus, which provided a big boost to Deborah Kerr’s career.

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Doctor in the House (1954)

Today is the birth centenary of British actor Dirk Bogarde, which is why I’m revisiting a film that was a favourite of mine in my teens.

Dirk Bogarde, born Derek Bogaerde (his father was of Flemish ancestry, and Derek ‘Pip’ was born in Birmingham) served in the British Army, mostly as an intelligence officer, during World War II. The war took him to Europe (where he was one of the first Allied officers to arrive at the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, a traumatic experience which he recalled, even years later, with horror and pain). In the wake of the war, Bogaerde (who had already begun working in theatre before the war) went back to acting, this time to cinema, where he took on the screen name by which he became famous. He signed a contract with the Rank Organisation, and it was in the Rank film Esther Waters (1948) that he got his first credited role.

Bogarde’s stint with Rank lasted till the 60s, after which he went on to work in a very varied set of films, moving on from the primarily matinee-idol, stereotypical leading man role he played in Rank’s films. This included several highly acclaimed and/or award-winning roles in films like King and Country, The Servant, Accident, The Fixer, and A Death in Venice. Bogarde’s homosexuality, which he never tried to hide, probably came in the way of his being a big hit in Hollywood, although back home in Britain he was very popular.

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Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)

One of my favourite genres is suspense. Give me a good Hitchcock film, and I’m a happy camper (Hitchcock happens to be among my favourite directors, but no, that doesn’t mean I regard only him as a great director when it comes to suspense films; there are many films not directed by Hitch that are favourites of mine, including Charade, Gaslight, and How to Steal a Million).

Anyway, talking of suspense: someone mentioned Chase a Crooked Shadow, telling me that it was a good suspense film, and I decided I had to watch it. This one wasn’t directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but by Michael Anderson.

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