Detective Story (1951)

Today, June 26, 2022, marks the birth centenary of one of my favourite Hollywood actresses, the beautiful and very versatile Eleanor Parker. Born in Cedarville, Ohio, on June 26, 1922, Eleanor Parker had decided fairly early on that she wanted to become an actress; but despite being noticed and invited for screen tests several times, she turned them down in order to focus on stage performances, preferring to gather experience onstage before getting into films. Finally entering Hollywood with a debut role in Busses Roar (1942), Eleanor went on to work in a very wide and varied range of films over the next nearly 50 years.

Most people associate Eleanor Parker with her role in The Sound of Music: but the elegant, beautiful, scheming but eventually gracious Baroness was only a minor role in what was a blockbuster hit of a film (which, I think, was the main reason for Eleanor’s popularity in it). You only have to watch Eleanor Parker in films where she had bigger, meatier roles—as the wild gypsy in Scaramouche, or the woman who finds herself imprisoned in Caged, or the feisty and funny Mary Stuart Cherne, out to get her man in Many Rivers to Cross—to realize that she was so much more versatile than many of her contemporaries. Of course, she could (and did) swing the standard arm candy roles, as in The Naked Jungle or Escape from Fort Bravo, but she could also do justice to roles that required some hardcore acting skills.

Continue reading

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

I knew something connected to Doris Day long before I had even heard of her. When I was about six years old, my mother used to sing Que sera sera to me, and that song became such a favourite of mine that I ended up writing down the lyrics (misspelt, I admit: Kay sera sera is what I recall having written) and belting  them out, night and day.

It was only many years later that I finally watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and got to see Doris Day sing that song onscreen, in a tense, nail-biting climax that both highlighted Doris Day’s singing ability as well as her acting prowess. By the time I watched this film, I had already seen Doris in other, more light-hearted roles, the sort of films (mostly musicals or screwball comedies, including the delightful ones which she did with good friend Rock Hudson) where she lit up the screen with the sheer joy of her presence. I had heard Wham! sing “… You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day…” I had listened to plenty of songs Doris Day had sung, and I had fallen in love with the vivacity and good humour Doris seemed to radiate.

Continue reading

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