In 1960, RK Narayan won the Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel, The Guide, published in 1958. The story is of a small town tourist guide who has an affair with the lonely wife of an archaeologist, an affair that has a lasting impact on his life.
Of course, anybody who knows anything about Hindi cinema would recognize the plot (and the name) immediately: this, after all, was (minus the ‘The’) the name of one of Hindi cinema’s most popular films ever made. The Dev Anand-Waheeda Rehman starrer Guide, directed by Vijay Anand, won an impressive seven Filmfare Awards (and that excluding what should definitely have been an award, for SD Burman’s brilliant score for the film).
… and, what better way to start off the year than with a celebration of a life? A life that was marked both by success and by failure; by happiness and—sadly—by despair so extreme that it drove the person to suicide. Carole Landis (1919-1948), popularly dubbed ‘The Ping Girl’ and ‘The Chest’, who made her breakthrough in One Million BC (1940), though she had debuted in the very popular A Star is Born (1937).
When I reviewed the 1934 version of this film, I’d been under the impression that I’d never heard of either of these films before. But, when I started watching this film, I realized that I had heard of this. As part of the filmography of Douglas Sirk, whose work I’ve seen too little of, and have been meaning to catch up on. So my viewing of the 1959 Imitation of Life served two purposes: watching another Sirk film, and seeing how it compared to an earlier film I’d already watched.
Like the 1934 Imitation of Life, this version too begins with a harried single mother and her young daughter. Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) is a widow with a six year old daughter called Susie (Terry Burnham). When the film opens, Lora is rushing about frantically on a very crowded beachfront, searching for Susie, who’s vanished.
I have a confession to make: I hadn’t heard of this film, or its (supposedly much better-known) 1959 remake until blog reader Kenneth J Narde mentioned it in a comment regarding my introductory post for Food and Food Movie month on Dustedoff. Kenneth wrote of pancakes—and I was immediately sold. I am a pancake fan, you see. I love pancakes in all their many avatars, from crepes to those buttery, maple-syrup laden stacks…
I read about the death of Neil Simon, playwright and scriptwriter (among other roles—including producer and director) on August 26th, admittedly with some level of blankness. The name sounded familiar (or was I simply mixing him up with Neil Diamond?) but I couldn’t, without help, associate Neil Simon with any film.
This wasn’t the film I’d been meaning to watch last weekend. That was the Humphrey Bogart-starrer, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But ten minutes into that, and I realized my mind was wandering. It’s probably a good film (it won several Oscars), but right then, I wasn’t in the mood to watch it. So I scrolled through my list of bookmarked videos, and came across a Cary Grant film, People Will Talk.
Cary Grant, I will have you know, is one of those rare actors for whom I will watch any film (and I have watched some less-than-enjoyable ones, simply because he happened to star in them). Mostly, though, his films range from good to excellent, so I decided I’d watch this one, dedicated to “… one who has inspired man’s unending battle against Death, and without whom that battle is never won… the patient.”
1942, a forgotten and decrepit military base in Montana.
In the middle of a brawl among a group of unruly, ragged and undisciplined American soldiers—guilty of “military and moral delinquencies”, as their commanding officer puts it—the sound of bagpipes comes floating down the road. A contingent of Canadians, the best of the best-trained army in the world, comes marching along in precise formation. Not a man is out of step, not a hair is out of place. They are the picture of discipline. And they are to be, along with the Americans, amalgamated into a fighting force that will be dropped into the middle of Norway.
There are some books that have become such a part of me that I sometimes forget if I have actually read the original or not. Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre: all I began by reading in an abridged form. I encountered them again, over the years, in various cinematic adaptations, on television and otherwise.
It has been the same for HG Wells’s classic tale of alien invasion, The War of the Worlds. I’ve been so familiar with this book for so long that I couldn’t remember whether I’ve ever read the full-length book or whether all my recollections of it were based on the film version I’ve seen and excerpts I’ve read. I decided finally to read the original recently (I liked it)—and then, naturally, I had to check out the cinematic adaptations of the book. One of these I had watched, and more than once: the 2005 Steven Spielberg one. But there was another, considered the most iconic version, which dated back to 1953 and which I figured I had to watch ASAP.
The War of the Worlds starts with a voiceover that talks about how, on Mars, a highly technically advanced civilization realized that its planet was dying and that it was time to look elsewhere for habitation. So it began the search among the other planets of the solar system: considering one and discarding it, one after the other, this one too cold, this too hot. Until its gaze turned on Earth, so serene and beautiful, so conducive to life.
Last May, my husband, my daughter and I shifted house. We’ve shifted house before (though never with a toddler in tow), but this time was rather more harrowing than every previous experience. The movers and packers we’d hired turned out to be a thoroughly inefficient and poorly trained lot, requiring constant supervision. They left debris—newspaper, scraps of cardboard and more—littered all across our new home, and the dumped al my books, each one of my precious books, in one untidy pile on the floor.
Then, on the second day in the new house, an insect flew into my eye and caused an infection that didn’t go for a month. Within the first week, the RO conked out; the kitchen tap suddenly started spewing black water; and we discovered that one of the pipes was so badly choked with plaster left behind by the repair-and-renovation gang that it had to be torn up and redone.
But at least we didn’t have people getting murdered in our backyard.
I have said, time and again, that I have a lot to be grateful for to the readers of this blog. Not only do all of you keep me going by reading my posts, commenting on them and discussing them (even going off on tangents!), you also educate me, enlighten me, entertain me—and, importantly, give me recommendations now and then.
Especially over the past few months, I have seen several memorable (and, at least to me, obscure) films that came to my notice simply because readers recommended them to me. The Outrage was recommended by Hurdy Gurdy Man; Neeru told me about Leave Her to Heaven; and CP Rajagopalan mentioned The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Not once, but in two separate comments, which prompted me to hurry up and watch it. And yes, what a film this turned out to be.
The eponymous Santa Vittoria is a small town in Italy where the story opens just before dawn sometime near the end of World War II. The earnest and excited Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini) comes racing to the church, waking up the priest and insisting on ringing the church bells, because there’s such momentous news… when the dazed, sleepy and generally stoic-looking residents of Santa Vittoria gather around in the square, Fabio shares his news: Mussolini is gone. Fascism has ended!