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.
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.
This film has been on my radar for a long time now—since I discovered that one of my favourite Hindi films, Ittefaq, was based on Signpost to Murder. The other day, I was again reminded of that, and this time decided I had to watch the original.
Signpost to Murder begins in an English village named Milhampton. Here, at a local asylum for the criminally insane, lives Alex Forrester (Stuart Whitman). Alex, who was accused of murdering his wife, has been in the asylum for the past five years. When the film opens, he’s outdoors, shoveling earth in the shadow of the high electric fences that surround the institution. With Forrester is his psychiatrist, Dr Mark Fleming (Edward Mulhare). Fleming has known Forrester these past five years and is due to represent Forrester in an upcoming debate regarding the possibility of bringing up Forrester’s case again.
The very first English language film I remember watching was a war film (a farcical comedy called Our Miss Fred, which I’ve never managed to get hold of since). Over the years, and especially during my teens—thanks to a local VHS lending library which stocked mostly war films—I watched a lot more of this genre. I’ve watched violent war films, adventurous war films, propaganda-heavy films, war films that crossed genres and combined war with everything from crime and mystery to comedy, to romance. I’ve watched war films that showed the futility of war.
War seems to be a favourite subject with many film makers.
But who stops to think of what happens when war is over? The Spanish film Bienvenido, Mr Marshall! did explore this idea in a humorous way, but from the point of view of people who were mostly non-combatants in the war itself. What happens, however, to men who have spent a few years in battle, men who have actually been in combat, and that too on the other side of the world from where they usually live? What happens when men come back to their everyday lives, their families and friends, to find that their world has moved on? And that they, too, have changed?
That’s what’s been flooding my timeline on Facebook, that’s what’s coming my way on text messages, in e-mails from family, friends, even banks and online stores. And yes, don’t we all wish for a happier 365 days ahead? Don’t we all wish that this year to come will be full of good health and joy and realized dreams for ourselves and those we love?
The last thing one wants in the first week of January is a reminder of death, especially that of someone we love. Even if that someone was not friend or family, or even acquaintance—someone we only knew through their work. Sadly, though, this has become an almost-given, come December: yet another film star I loved passes away. A year ago, it was the beautiful Sadhana; in 2013, Joan Fontaine, Peter O’Toole, and one of my absolute favourites, Eleanor Parker. Rod Taylor, Suchitra Sen, Nalini Jaywant, Dev Anand… all gone in December or January. And this year, Debbie Reynolds passed away, just the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died.
It’s that time of the year again—and time for a tradition I’ve kept up on this blog ever since its inception. Time for a Christmas movie.
This time, wondering which film I should review, I came across this one, and it appealed to me at once, because I remembered Dickens’s classic story of an asocial and curmudgeonly miser whose life changes one Christmas. I had seen an animated version of A Christmas Carol ages ago on TV, I’d just read the novella that Dickens wrote to help tide him over during a hard spell when money was short. High time (and appropriate time) to watch the film.
A Christmas Carol begins on Christmas Eve in London. As crowds hustle and bustle through streets covered in snow, people rushing briskly about from one gaily decorated shop to another, a young man (Barry Mackay) goes sliding merrily down a little slope of snow. In the process, he makes friends with Tim Cratchitt ‘Tiny Tim’ (Terry Kilburn), who can’t indulge in such treats because he’s lame—and so Fred happily takes Tiny Tim on his shoulders and allows him a taste of the joy of sliding down a slope.
This post had its genesis in a post sometime back, in which blog reader and fellow blogger Rahul commented that he tended to not watch foreign films. I decided, then, to create a list of ten foreign films that might appeal to a lover of old Hindi cinema. Then, a couple of weeks down the line, when I reviewed The Woman in Question, Rahul reminded me of that promise, asking me when I’d be posting that list of English films. There had obviously been a misunderstanding somewhere; I had meant non-English films. But it gave me an idea; why not a list of English-language films too?
After all, it’s not as if the plots and themes of Hollywood and British cinema from the Golden Years were completely alien to Indian audiences. In fact, many of them would be familiar to watchers of Hindi films: a lot of films, all the way from Chori-Chori to Kati Patang, from Yahudi to Ek Ruka Hua Faislaa, from Half Ticket to Gumnaam, are based on Hollywood films, some of them to such an extent that they are not merely adaptations but outright copies. Add to that the fact that the Hays Code, which governed Hollywood between 1922 and 1945, had fairly Puritan ideas about what was permissible and what was not, and you have cinema that was relatively ‘clean’, at least as far as what was shown onscreen. You could safely watch these without fearing that you’d suddenly stumble upon nudity, profanity, or extreme violence.
A couple of months back, I was invited to an interesting series of sessions focusing on building creativity. This was part of a venture by an organization where I once worked, and the creativity-building exercises take unconventional routes to help employees think out of the box: by watching films and analyzing them, for instance. One of the sessions I attended was presented by a team which used the theme of ‘multiple narratives’ to examine four films. The classic Kurosawa film Rashomon was (of course) on the list; so was the excellent South Korean film, Memories of Murder. The other two films—which I hadn’t seen, though I’d heard of them—were Talwar and Anatomy of a Murder.
The description and brief discussion of Anatomy of a Murder that followed got me interested, and I made a mental note to get the DVD. Then, a week or so back, friend and ex-fellow blogger Harvey recommended the film to me, too, so I decided it was high time I watched it. And what a film it turned out to be.
The other day, a blog reader, Dr Pradeep Prahlad, commented on one of my reviews of a Tyrone Power film, Witness for the Prosecution. It reminded me that a few years back, I went through a longish spell of complete and utter Power fandom. I watched, over the space of a few months, just about every Tyrone Power film I could lay my hands on. Some were good, some were forgettable. Some I reviewed. Some I thought I’d review—and then forgot about them.
So here is one film that I liked, but ended up not having the time to review back then. I rewatched Rawhide a couple of weeks back, saw flaws in it I hadn’t noticed the first time round, and decided it merited a review. Even if only to keep the Power love alive, and even if only to draw attention to a Western that generally tends to get overlooked.
I am a creature of habit. And a lot of habits of mine kick in around Christmastime every year. One is the daily posting, on Facebook, of a favourite Christmas carol. Another is this: the reviewing of a film that centres round Christmas. Over the years this blog has been in existence (I began it in November 2008), I’ve reviewed several films, some well-known, others not. This one, according to several polls, is listed as one of the very top Christmas films ever made.
It begins at Thanksgiving in New York City. The huge department store, Macy’s, at 34th Street, is holding its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the employee in charge of managing much of the parade is Mrs Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara). Doris is very harassed, what with the large number of people she has to juggle and instruct; thus, when she discovers that her Santa Claus has been drinking and is now tipsy, she nearly loses it.