The Bedford Incident (1965)

In my younger days, I used to watch a lot of war films: not the newer, more gory and violent ones, but the older, not so graphic type. My favourites were adventure films like Where Eagles Dare, though somewhere down the line I also developed a liking for more nuanced films, films like Battleground or Paths of Glory or La Grande Guerra, which showed the harsh reality of war, of the horror it is to go into battle, to fight a war plotted out by people sitting in a conference room far away…

The Bedford Incident is different. The people sitting in a distant conference room are there all right, but the real problem here seems to be not them, but the man who commands the USS Bedford. Captain Eric Finlander (Richard Widmark) is a hard, embittered man who gives no quarter. 

Continue reading

Auntie Mame (1958)

Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” says the eponymous Auntie Mame (Rosalind Russell) on more than one occasion in this delightful film about an eccentric woman who is obliged to look after her orphaned nephew. Mame Dennis, indeed, is not one of the ‘poor suckers’ she so derides; this is a woman who lives life to the full (and a little beyond), grabbing happiness with both hands and not giving a damn, mostly, for what the world thinks.

Continue reading

Sudden Fear (1952)

Last year, I read AJ Finn’s thriller suspense novel, The Woman in the Window, in which the protagonist spends most of her time drinking wine and spying on her neighbours. I didn’t like the book, but the protagonist, besides being an alcoholic and a voyeur, had one thing to recommend her: she was a lover of old suspense films. The book had plenty of references to classic noir cinema, and I got a kick out of seeing how many of those I’d watched. And making notes of the ones I hadn’t seen yet, but which I thought I should try to get hold of.

Sudden Fear was one of those I hadn’t seen before, and when I found a very good print on YouTube, I decided to give it a try.

The story begins at a theatre company; rehearsals for a play are in progress, and the playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford), a very wealthy heiress who insists on working for a living because she doesn’t want to live off all her inherited wealth, is sitting with a few other people. Onstage, the lead actor, Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) is speaking a romantic dialogue to his co-star.

Continue reading

Julie (1956)

Most of the Hollywood films I’ve watched over the past few years have been suspense films. And, oddly enough, a disproportionate number of those have ended up following a similar pattern. A wealthy woman falls head over heels in love with a very attractive man and marries him. They’re blissfully happy—and then, the shattering truth emerges: he wants to kill her. In several of these films (Midnight Lace, Sudden Fear, Love From a Stranger), the man’s motive for wanting to kill his wife (and to marry her, in the first place) is to get at her money.

Not so in Julie, where Louis Jourdan’s character, playing the evil husband, is out to kill his wife for a very different reason.

Continue reading

The Search (1948)

I am not one of those people who cry at the drop of a hat when watching a film. The high melodrama of most Hindi films, for instance, leaves me mostly cold. Lovers separated rarely elicit a tear, and people dying might make me feel vaguely sorry, but not much more.

What does make me feel really sad is when I see children in distress. Children lost, children helpless and in pain, children scared and hungry and lonely. (And yes, very importantly: child actors who do a good job of acting out these characters)… that is what can bring a lump to my throat.

And that is what The Search did to me.

Set in Berlin, just after the end of World War II, The Search begins with a large group of children, rescued from concentration camps and other places, being brought to an Allied shelter. Thin, ragged, their eyes huge and frightened, these children are, to all purposes, orphaned. Perhaps some of them do have a parent, long-separated from the child by the Nazis, but it will take time to find that parent. And in most cases, there is no hope at all: the child is all alone in the world.

Continue reading

Madame X (1966)

I still remember the very first Lana Turner movie I watched: The Three Musketeers, in which she starred as the evil but beautiful Lady de Winter. I watched that film mostly for Gene Kelly, one of my favourites; but I remember being struck by Lana Turner. So icily beautiful, but so ruthlessly, coldly calculating and vicious too. She was exactly as I’d imagined Lady de Winter to be when I’d read The Three Musketeers (it’s a different matter that the film diverged considerably from the novel).

Today may be the birth centenary of Lana Turner (the ‘may be’ because some say she was born on February 8, 1920, rather than 1921). Born in Idaho, as Julia Jean Mildred Frances Turner, ‘Lana’ came to California with her mother after her father was murdered in 1929. By the time she was 17, Lana had landed her first role in cinema, and by the early 40s, had started becoming an actress to be reckoned with. ‘The Sweater Girl’, as she was known, ended up being projected mostly as little more than a sex symbol by MGM, but proved, over time, that she could act with the best of them. Films like Peyton Place, Imitation of Life and The Postman Always Rings Twice gave her a chance to show that her acting talent was everywhere as good as her legendary beauty.

Continue reading

Book Review: JR Jordan’s ‘Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures’

Some weeks back, I received an e-mail from someone named Joe Jordan, who wanted to know if (since I had reviewed The Desert Rats), I would like to have a copy of his book about the film director Robert Wise.

I rarely turn down an offer of a book, unless it’s something that I absolutely know will not be my cup of tea. But a book about classic cinema? I said thank you to Joe, and waited for my copy of Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures.

Continue reading

Light in the Piazza (1962)

Earlier this year, when Olivia de Havilland passed away, someone I know was reminiscing about her films and mentioned Light in the Piazza as being a particular favourite. I had never even heard of Light in the Piazza, let alone anything else, so I decided to have a look. It did turn out to be a mostly enjoyable film, but I didn’t find it worthy of being a tribute to Olivia de Havilland (what I reviewed instead as a tribute was this).

But Light in the Piazza is worth talking about, because it’s an unusual film. Unusual in its subject matter, and unusual in the fact that its leading lady acts her age: Olivia de Havilland was in her mid-forties when she acted as Meg Johnson, and she brings to the role all her wealth of experience.

Continue reading

From Here to Eternity (1953)

1941.

Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) arrives at a military base in Hawaii and presents himself before the commanding officer, Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober). The captain is a boxing enthusiast, and he’s licking his lips at the thought of having added one of the army’s best boxers to his clutch: Prewitt is a famous middle-weight, isn’t he. No sir, Prewitt says. He was; he doesn’t fight now. Not after that incident—Holmes obviously knows what Prewitt’s alluding to, but we get to know only later, when Prewitt meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Lorene (Donna Reed).

Continue reading

To Each His Own (1946)

RIP, Olivia de Havilland.

If there’s one person whom I regarded as the last of the great stars of the glory days of Hollywood, it’s the beautiful and very talented Olivia de Havilland. I’ve watched several of de Havilland’s films, and have invariably found her very watchable—she brought a dignity and grace to her roles that made her stand out. Plus, she was a very good (and very versatile) actress, seemingly effortlessly playing standard ‘damsel in distress’ roles (especially in the eight films she did with Errol Flynn), as well as much more nuanced characters, like the immortal Melanie of Gone With the Wind, the mentally tormented Virginia Cunningham of The Snake Pit, and the naïve, gullible Catherine Sloper, the eponymous heiress of The Heiress.

Over a career spanning five decades, Olivia de Havilland won two Oscars (for The Heiress and To Each His Own), and was nominated for many other awards, including various national medals and awards by France, the US and the UK.

Although she had her share of controversy (especially regarding her supposedly strained relationship with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine), de Havilland was in some ways a pioneer too. It was because of her refusal to go on playing ‘sweet young thing’ roles that she ended up suing Warner Bros. —and winning, a landmark decision which led to the law now known by her name. She also went on to be the first female president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.

Continue reading