Archive for April, 2011

Not to be confused with the Marx Brothers film of the same name, this hilarious screwball comedy stars Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn and Marilyn Monroe.  Grant plays Barnaby Fulton, a scientist trying to develop an elixir of youth for a chemical company.  Barnaby takes the elixir himself, unaware that the concoction he’s taken is far stronger than he realises, having been tampered with by a chimpanzee (bear with me).  Soon, Barnaby is feeling rejuvenated, young and vital, and ends up spending the day in town with young secretary Lois Laurel (Monroe).  When Barnaby’s wife Edwina (Rogers) tries the potion she reverts back to her youth and starts acting like a petulant and emotional schoolgirl.  Mayhem – and plenty of laughter – ensue….

From the very beginning of this movie, with Cary Grant being the self aware centre of a joke (where he interrupts the credits and an off screen voice can be heard saying, “Not yet Cary”), it’s obvious that this is not a film to be taken seriously under any circumstances.  The plot is implausible, illogical and at times ridiculous – but that’s part of what makes it so genuinely funny.  Cary Grant has terrific comic timing and provides so many laughs; there are a lot of visual gags in this film, which are as funny as they are daft.  Ginger Rogers is as good as (or dare I say it, possibly even better) that Grant, and really makes the most of her role – she gets to briefly show off her amazing dancing skills, and watch out for the scene with the glass on her forehead!  Grant and Rogers really bounce well off each other (and I personally thought that Rogers was easily as gorgeous as Marilyn Monroe).

If you want something to make you laugh, I would certainly recommend this film – one to be enjoyed time and again.

Year of release: 1952

Director: Howard Hawks

Writers: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, I.A.L. Diamond, Harry Segall

Main cast: Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn

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Sherlock Holmes needs no introduction – the super-analytical detective is one of fictions best loved and most enduring characters, and the star character of numerous film adaptations.  This book is a collection of twelve short stories, all narrated (as per usual) by Holmes’ friend and able assistant, Dr Watson.

Each story follows a basic pattern – a client comes to see Holmes, and usually Watson, at the Baker Street address, gives details of an unusual event of situation which they have become embroiled in, and which is cloaked in mystery.  Holmes uses his legendary powers of deduction to work out what has happened and then conducts enquiries which usually end up confirming his hypothesis.  He is undoubtedly a clever character, sometimes infuriatingly so!

Short stories can be a bit hit and miss, but there was not a single clunker amongst this collection.  However, I read them in between other books, and for me at least, I think this was the best way of reading it.  Had I read the stories one after the other, I think I may have found them slightly formulaic.  As it was, I found the writing to be original and fresh, with plenty of wit and mystery to keep the reader interested.

Every reader will probably have their own favourites – for me, the best stories were The Red Headed League, The Man With The Twisted Lip and The Noble Bachelor.

Overall, these bite sized treats are perfect if you fancy a bit of a light hearted mystery, and this book comes highly recommended!

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This novel starts off in Bangladesh, when Rashid (aka Ricky) Karim, a 17 year old youth with a promising future, is tricked into marrying Henna Rub, a manipulative and deceitful 13 year old, who sees marriage and subsequent motherhood as a way to escape school.

Years later, their daughter Shona elopes with a Pakistani who her family do not approve of.  Shona and her husband Parvez run away to London, where money is short, but they are convinced that their love will keep them together.  They have twin sons, Omar and Sharif.

As all three generations of the family negotiate their way through life, love and lies, they find themselves seemingly headed on a course to disaster.  Will they ever find a way out of their tangled lives?

This book was a very pleasant surprise.  When I started it, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but I found myself hooked on the story and eager to find out what would happen next.  The tale takes place in London and Bangladesh, and I enjoyed the descriptions of both places.

If there is a main character, it is probably Shona; she is a beautifully drawn character, and so believable.  She is intelligent and compassionate, but also has very human flaws, lying to herself as often as she tries to hide the truth from others.  I liked her very much.  The other characters are also well developed and easy to believe in.

The storyline had some twists and turns, and kept me hooked.  The family soon became ensnared in the tangled web of lies of which they had become part.  I had no idea how things would turn out, and thought that the ending when it came was very satisfying.  There were themes of humour, sadness, anger and love running throughout the story; the title of this book is very apt, as it was certainly bittersweet.

This is the first book I’ve read by Roopa Farooki, but I am certainly going to seek out her other novels.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This 1958 movie centres on the lives of a group of permanent residents at a Bournemouth hotel.  It’s out of season and they are the only people stopping there.  Inevitably, their lives become intertwined.  Wendy Hiller (who won an Oscar for her role) is Pat Cooper, the manageress of the hotel who presides over events with patience and good sense.  David Niven (who also won as Oscar for his performance despite appearing on screen for total of less than 16 minutes) is Major Angus Pollock, a man who is about to see his life unravel – an event which divides the other residents into those who want to see him ejected from the establishment, and those who are more sympathetic.  Rita Hayworth is absolutely stunning as lonely fashion model Ann Shankland, who comes to the hotel to see her former husband John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster, who also co-produced the film), although John is now engaged to Pat Cooper.

This really is a rather lovely film; its charm sort of crept up on me and I realised that I was really enjoyed watched the tangled webs which these characters wove.  The cast was uniformly excellent, with not a poor performance among them.

The film is based on two one-act plays by Terence Rattigan, but here the two stories are interwoven, to excellent effect (the title is taken from the separate tables where the guests sit in the dining room).  It does feel a little bit like watching a play, especially as every scene is based at the hotel.  The whole gamut of human emotion is displayed here, from despair to joy, anger to love, friendship and disdain.  I especially warmed to the characters of Pat Kerr and Sybil Railton-Bell (Deborah Kerr), a young woman who is downtrodden and dominated by her mother.

There were some great scenes, but my favourite was unquestionably the final scene, which appropriately took place in the dining room, featuring the separate tables of the title.  There are no spoilers here, so I won’t reveal more, except to say that it was very satisfying ending to a very entertaining film, and highly recommended.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Delbert Mann

Writers: Terence Rattigan (play), John Gay, John Michael Hayes (uncredited)

Main cast: Rita Hayworth, Burt Lancaster, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Wendy Hiller

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Psychologist Megan Rhys has been called in to assist the Police with the investigation into the deaths of two prostitutes.  However, the Police seem to determined to take the investigation along their own way, despite Megan’s belief that they are looking in the wrong places.  Something is wrong with the information the Police are giving her, and she needs to find out why.  Meantime, a friend of Megan’s is receiving anonymous and frightening letters, and Megan starts to wonder if this is connected to the murdered prostitutes.  Her investigations lead her into dark places, physically and psychologically, and she could be heading into danger…

I’m in two minds about this book.  It’s the first in a series featuring Megan Rhys, and I certainly think she was a great character, especially for a series of novels, when she can be more fully fleshed out as the books progress.

The story moved on at a ready pace, but occasionally seemed in danger of becoming over complicated.  Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read, with plenty of clues and red herrings thrown in during the narrative.  I liked the fact that I did not guess who the killer was until it was revealed at the end, and kept changing my mind about who it would turn out to be.

However, the subject of the story seemed distasteful at times; I’m not a prude, but I did feel that the book was something that I couldn’t really enjoy.  In a way this is perhaps a compliment – the book was supposed to lead the reader to some unpleasant scenarios, and it certainly did so.

I did feel that the plot was occasionally a bit too ‘busy’, with too many things happening, and not all of them necessary.  However, overall the central character was enough to keep me reading, and I would consider reading more book in this series.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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After returning home from World War II and having a less-than-successful reunion with his wife, soldier Paul Sutton (Keanu Reeves) meets a young pregnant Mexican woman named Victoria Aragon (Aitana Sanchez Gijon) who is going to see her family at their vineyard at Napa Valley.  When she tells him that she’s terrified of letting her very traditional father know that she’s pregnant – and her boyfriend has deserted her – Paul offers to pretend to be her husband.  But then the pair find themselves drawn to each other…

There are reasons why this movie shouldn’t be enjoyable – for starters, the storyline is very predictable – it’s fairly obvious what’s going to happen right from the beginning – but nonetheless the journey from beginning to end of the film is very watchable.  Keanu Reeves really isn’t a great actor, but it somehow doesn’t matter because he is just so likeable.  And this film is also just so likeable.  No sex, no violence, no swearing even – just a very sweet, heartwarming film.

The movie was shot in Napa Valley, where it is set, and there is some truly beautiful and luscious scenery – it’s almost worth watching for that alone.  There are some gentle comedic moments, and some touching moments.  It certainly left me with a smile on my face!

(Trivia: This movie is based on the 1942 Italian film ‘Quattro Passi Fra Le Nuvole’ (Four Steps In The Clouds); however, there are some some slight differences in the plot.)

Year of release: 1995

Director: Alfonso Arau

Writers: Robert Mark Kamen, Mark Miller, Harvey Weitzman, Piero Tellini, Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio de Benedetti

Main cast: Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sanchez Gijon, Anthony Quinn, Giancarlo Giannini, Angelica Aragon, Evangelina Elizondo

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Such a famous tale probably needs no introduction, but in brief this book – set in the American South before, during and after the American Civil War, tells the story of headstrong, determined Scarlett O’Hara, the people she loves (and doesn’t), the downfall of the South during the Civil War, and of course, the relationship between Rhett Butler and Scarlett.

In many ways I absolutely adored this book.  Despite being over 1000 pages long, it never lost it’s pace or excitement, and skilfully wove the story of one woman and the people around her, with the story of a brutal war and the effect it had on the Confederacy.

Scarlett was certainly an interesting heroine, and I found my feelings towards her changing often as I read the book.  In many ways, she is thoroughly dislikeable; she is manipulative, cunning, avaricious and cruel.  But she is also prepared to work hard, shows great determination and has massive reserves of courage.  She is not above lying to people to get what she wants, and even marrying men she doesn’t care for, if there is something in it for her.  But there is one man who she can’t seem to get the better of – the handsome, charming, insolent Rhett Butler, who seems as ruthless and unfeeling as she is.

The story starts in 1961, when Scarlett is the belle of the county with most of the local young men wrapped around her finger – except for Ashley Wilkes, the one man who she really adores. But Ashley is due to marry Melanie, much to Scarlett’s horror.  Over the following ten years, Scarlett, Rhett, Ashley and Melanie live through good times and bad as the war takes hold and causes poverty, heartbreak, unrest and unease.  This is a huge sprawling story, I am reluctant to give away more of the plot for fear of spoiling it for anyone who has yet to read it or see the film (I have never seen the film, but certainly intend to do so).

The characterisation for the main characters is excellent; Scarlett and Melanie in particular are extremely well drawn.  Rhett is also a fully fleshed out character, although he does not appear in the book as much as I expected.  Some of the more peripheral characters were less well depicted, but that didn’t hinder the story in any way.  My favourite character was probably Melanie, for her dear heart and caring nature, but I also had to admit to a grudging respect for Scarlett (even if I could never quite bring myself to like her).

However, there was one huge aspect of the story which did make me feel uncomfortable, and which I feel I have to mention – and that is the issue of slavery, which is a predominant theme throughout the story.  I felt that the author was probably at least partly sympathetic to the idea of slavery, and her own beliefs came through in the story.  The emancipation of slaves is depicted as a bad thing, and the Southerners who kept slaves were uniformly portrayed as kind and generous people.  The slaves who were given their freedom were either shown as layabout criminals, or happy to continue in their former positions.  The Ku Klux Klan features in the book, and even that organisation is shown with some sympathy.  It’s hard not to see some parts of the story as blatantly racist, even if the events described were happening in a different time and culture.  I can’t pretend that these parts did not make me wince.

Overall though, this is a big book, with a huge story contained within its pages.  Don’t be put off by the size – it doesn’t get boring, and I found myself feeling as though I knew the characters.  Certainly I was eager to find out how things would turn out for them.  A recommended read.


Click here for my review of the 1939 movie adaptation.

Click here for my review of the film ‘Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara War’.


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Bette Davis is Margo Channing, a huge Broadway star.  When she meets the young, starstruck Eve, Margo takes her under her wing, and gives Eve a home and a job.  But it’s not long before Eve shows her true colours when she starts scheming in an attempt to undermine Margo – attempting to steal Margo’s current stage role, her lover, and the adulation of the theatre world.

I had never seen this film before (older black and white movies were never something I thought to watch, until I saw Roman Holiday, which opened up a whole new era of classic films to me).  However, I would certainly watch it again – I thought it was excellent.  Bette Davis is simply mesmerising as Margo – she is charismatic and sexy, but insecure and can be exasperating to her partner and friends.  It’s no surprise that she was Oscar nominated for her role, but something of a shock that she didn’t win, because she is really superb, switching from witty to sarcastic to genuinely kind to insecure and tense.  Great support is provided by Celeste Holm as Margo’s best friend Karen, George Sanders as theatre critic Addison de Witt, Gary Merrill as Margo’s partner Bill, and Hugh Marlowe as playwright Lloyd Richards.  Anne Baxter plays the eponymous anti-heroine, and also received an Oscar nomination for the role – she was certainly great in this, but this film really belongs to Bette Davis.  (Davis was not the first choice for the film – Claudette Colbert was originally due to play Margo, but suffered a ruptured disc and was unable to do so.)

No spoilers about the ending here, but I did think the way the film finished was just about perfect.  This movie received fourteen Oscar nominations in total, and won six of the categories.  It’s easy to see why – some classics do stand the test of time and this is one of them.  I’m surprised that this is the first film starring Bette Davis that I have ever watched – but it certainly won’t be the last.  Marilyn Monroe also plays a small role in the film – and she certainly made the most of her screen time, with some excellent comedy timing.

Definitely a film worth watching – and rewatching.

Year of release: 1950

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Writers: Mary Orr (original short story), Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Main cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe

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This 1948 film was Alfred Hitchcock’s first colour production.  It features Farley Granger and John Dall as two young men – Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan – who murder their former classmate, hide his body in a chest in their apartment, and then hold a dinner party for the family and associates of the dead man.  None of the guests realise the grisly secret that is in the room with them, and are actually expecting the dead man to come to the party.  James Stewart plays Rupert Cadell, the young men’s former schoolmaster, who is invited to the party and begins to suspect that something is amiss.

The film is shot in real time (almost – the timeframes are speeded up, so that the events take place over 100 minutes, although the film is 80 minutes long) and as it all takes place within the apartment, it has almost the feel of a stage play.  It is extremely entertaining, and although I felt from the outset that things could surely not possibly end well for the two murderers, I also had no idea how the story would end.  I won’t give away any spoilers, but I did think the ending itself was excellent.

James Stewart was not the original choice for the role (Cary Grant was in fact first choice – although he did not play the part, two of the characters discuss him at the party, and make reference to a film of his; clearly they are referring to Notorious, a Hitchcock film which started Grant), and did not apparently like the film.  He felt that he had been miscast in the role of Cadell, but I actually thought that he was perfect.

There are some surprising moments of humour in the film – mainly due to Constance Collier who plays the aunt of the dead man, but mostly this is a thriller of sorts, with plenty of tension and atmosphere.

The film is loosely based on the real life case of Nathan Freudenthal Leopold and Richard Albert Loeb, who in 1924 murdered 14 year old Robert Franks.  Both men were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.  More can be read about the case here.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Patrick Hamilton, Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents, Ben Hecht

Main cast: James Stewart, Farley Granger, John Dall, Joan Chandler, Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson

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This little gem of a movie was made in 1934, and is often considered to be the first screwball comedy.  It’s also ranked at number 3 of the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest romantic comedies.  However, neither of the two stars, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, wanted to do the film, and several stars turned down the female lead.  (Colbert only agreed to do it on the basis that her salary was doubled and that it would only entail four weeks work.)  However, it was the first movie to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay – although Colbert was apparently so convinced that Bette Davis would win best actress for Of Human Bondage, that she (Colbert) did not even attend the Oscars ceremony.  When it was announced that she had won, she had to be tracked down at a train station and brought to the ceremony to accept the award.  She gave her acceptance speech in her traveling clothes!

But onto the movie itself…Colbert plays Ellie Andrews, a wealthy heiress whose father disapproves of her recent marriage.  In a bid to escape her father’s clutches, Ellie runs away from Miami to get to New York and her new husband.  Along the way she meets newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Gable) who helps her get to New York on condition that she gives him an exclusive piece for the paper he works for.  Initially antagonistic towards each other, they soon develop a friendship and then their feelings start to turn to something more…

This really is a lovely movie, which transcends the passage of time.  Of course it looks dated now, but that only adds to its charm.  Gable is roguish, cavalier and very dashing, whereas Colbert plays the part of the pampered heiress with a vulnerable side extremely well.  There are many hilarious moments in the film – the hitchhiking scene in particular is especially funny.

(N.B.: If the plotline sounds similar to that of Roman Holiday, which came two decades later, there are a few similarities, but the comparisons which have been drawn between the two movies are largely unwarranted.  Whereas Roman Holiday focuses more on the romance aspect, It Happened One Night is more comedy focussed.  I would highly recommend both movies.)

Year of release: 1943

Director: Frank Capra

Writers: Robert Riskin, Samuel Hopkins Adams

Main cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly

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