The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)

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!

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Suspicion (1941)

Just a little over a week back, I was paying tribute to a cinema personality who played a major role in defining Hindi film music in the 1950s and 60s: Roshan. 1917 was the year Roshan was born, and in the same year, also in Asia (in Tokyo), a few months later, was born a girl who was to go on to become one of the most prominent stars of British cinema as well as Hollywood. Joan Fontaine, award-winning actress, sister to Olivia de Havilland, licensed pilot, Cordon Bleu chef, rider, champion balloonist, licensed interior designer—and scorer of 160 on an infant IQ test.

Most importantly, though, a fine very actress, and one who starred in some memorable films, in memorable roles: Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, This Above All… her characters were often, in keeping with Ms Fontaine’s features, women of genteel fragility. Sometimes, that fragility teetered over the edge into terror (Mrs de Winter’s character in Rebecca is a fine example of this) before pulling herself together and showing the steel in her.

Rebecca I have already reviewed on this blog, but to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of an actress I have liked since I was quite young, I decided to review another Joan Fontaine film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Like Rebecca, this one too is about a naïve young woman who ends up married to a man who is perhaps not all he had seemed to be at first glance. Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Lina McLaidlaw won her her only Academy Award for Best Actress.

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Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

I have learnt a lot from blog readers and fellow bloggers over the years I’ve been blogging. One thing for which I am especially grateful is recommendations: I’ve had bloggers mention films they like, and more often than not, I’ve ended up at least going and checking it out. Sometimes, I give it a miss (an actor I don’t like?). Sometimes, I watch the film but—perhaps because my expectations might have been too high to start with—end up being too underwhelmed to even want to go through the trouble of reviewing it.

Not this time. Fellow blogger and blog reader Neeru recommended Leave Her to Heaven, and I didn’t just watch it, I watched it pretty much sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next.

A harried-looking young man (Cornel Wilde) has just returned to his home town after two years in prison. He is met at a lakeside dock by a lawyer named Robie (Ray Collins), who greets him with genuine affection and hands over a boat. The young man gets into the boat, thanks his friend, and moves off across the lake.

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The Mummy (1932)

The other day, after weeks of should I—should I not, I finally decided I should watch the 2017 The Mummy. I’ll admit I had low expectations, but The Mummy succeeded in showing me that even those expectations had been too high. This was a crazy mix-up of everything from an ancient mummy come alive to some medieval Crusaders, to Dr Jekyll, trying desperately to keep his evil alter-ego in check. There were crows, there were rats and spiders swarming all over the place, there was dust and sand and pools of mercury. There were gibbering skeletons racing madly about, pursuing our hero and his lady love left, right and centre.

About time, I thought, that I finally saw why a lot of film buffs rate these newer versions (I’m also referring to the 1999 Brendan Fraser-Rachel Weisz-Arnold Vosloo The Mummy) as pale copies of the original The Mummy.


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Pursued (1947)

Exactly a week back, this blog was celebrating the birthday of a favourite of mine: the gorgeous Mumtaz turned 70. Today, Dusted Off celebrates the birth anniversary—the centenary, in fact—of another favourite of mine: Robert Mitchum.

Born on August 6, 1917, Mitchum first began appearing in cinema during the early 40s (having already worked in an eclectic range of jobs, from ditch-digging, professional boxing, theatre actor and writer, to a machine operator at Lockheed). Although he is today best known for noir films (think Cape Fear and The Night of the Hunter), Mitchum acted in varied roles and genres. From one of the best submarine war films ever (The Enemy Below) to an unusual—and endearing—love story in Heaven Knows, Mr Allison; from the angsty medical drama Not as a Stranger to the hard-hitting expression against anti-Semitism, Crossfire… Mitchum was in films of all types.

To commemorate Mitchum’s birth centenary, I found myself in a dilemma. I’ve already reviewed several of his best-known films (not to mention several that are barely known). I’ve even devoted an entire week on Dusted Off to Mitchum. It seemed appropriate to review a Mitchum film: one of the classic noirs? Blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man suggested Out of the Past or The Big Steal. I decided, instead, to review an unusual film, a sort of cusp between the Westerns that marked Mitchum’s early career and the noirs that marked his later years as an actor. Pursued is a noir Western.

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The Outrage (1964)

Rashōmon, set in the Wild West.

I hadn’t heard about this film, let alone seen it, till a few weeks back, when blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man, commenting on my review of Rashōmon, mentioned it.

Rashōmon—and the Rashōmon Effect—fascinates me, to the extent that I will watch just about any film, read just about any book, that uses this potentially gripping style of multiple narratives. From Andha Naal to The Woman in Question: I am game for them all. So The Outrage, starring one of my favourites (Paul Newman), and in a genre for which I have a soft spot (Western) was immediately bookmarked.

 

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Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957)

A hundred years, ago, on June 7, 1917, in Ohio was born Dino Paul Crocetti, the son of an Italian immigrant and his wife, also of Italian origin. Dino spoke nothing but Italian until he was five years old—and didn’t have an easy time growing up, what with having to work jobs as varied as that of a steel mill worker and a gas station attendant. Until 1946, when he finally landed up in Hollywood, changed his name to the more Anglicized ‘Dean Martin’, and teamed up with comic actor Jerry Lewis in a series of comedies. They were to part ways some years later, but Dean Martin went on to become a far greater star—as actor and as singer—than anyone could ever have imagined.

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Lucky Star (1929)

Lucky Star is a movie of moments.

A moment when a man, washing down the head of a young girl who’s grubby as can be, happens to ask her how old she is, and realizes, with a start of embarrassment, that she’s not the kid he’s imagined her to be, but a young woman.

A moment when a girl, grateful for the support and friendship of a crippled man, hugs him—and he, after a moment of euphoria, realizes that the love is all on his side; she does not see him as a lover, but as a friend, perhaps as something like an elder brother.

A moment when a crippled man, desperate to be ‘normal’ again, rises painfully up on crutches, grins in triumph—and crashes to the floor the next instant.

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Under Capricorn (1949)

Alfred Hitchcock is, for me, the cinematic equivalent of writers like PG Wodehouse or Georgette Heyer or Agatha Christie: I see their names on a work, and I know that this is something I can read (or watch, in Hitchcock’s case) and almost certainly not end up finding it a waste of time. The other day, trawling Youtube for something to watch, I came across Under Capricorn. I had heard of this one before, but besides being aware that it had been directed by Hitchcock, I knew nothing of the film. A good opportunity to watch a Hitch film I hadn’t seen.

This story begins in an unusual location (for Hollywood, that is): below the Tropic of Capricorn, in Australia. Set in 1831, Under Capricorn begins one day in Sydney, where the new Governor (Cecil Parker) of New South Wales, having just arrived on the continent from Ireland, is addressing the people. His welcome, while all gleaming brass and starched uniforms on the official side, is lukewarm when it comes to the general public. They aren’t especially impressed.

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The Women (1939)

Much is made of International Women’s Day, and I find myself inundated with messages relating to that, beginning a week in advance of March 8. Promotions from online retailers, newspaper ads, flyers offering discounts on everything from spa treatments to cosmetics: it’s all there. I however tend to mostly ignore Women’s Day and treat it just as another day.

This time, though, I thought: why not post a review of a film that puts women in an important role? It occurred to me then that it had been years—more years than I could remember—since I had watched The Women. And that this might be a good excuse to rewatch a very unusual film: unusual, not because of the story (which isn’t so very offbeat), but because of the fact that the film has no male characters appearing onscreen. Men are there in The Women, but they are neither seen nor heard.

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