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Archive for May, 2011

In Hitchcock’s thriller from 1954, James Stewart is photographer L.B. Jeffries, forced to stay at home with a broken leg, and nothing better to do than stare out of his rear window and watch the lives of his neighbours going on around him.  He becomes convinced that one of the neighbours has committed murder, and is determined to prove it, despite a lack of any evidence.  His girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) help him try to uncover the evidence he needs.

I love this kind of movie – apart from just a couple of scenes, everything the viewer sees is exactly how Jeffries sees it from his window.  This means that we are privy to only the things he is aware of, and this really places the viewer in the apartment with Jeffries.

James Stewart was great in the central role.  He plays an active man, who enjoys his varied and exciting work as a photographer, who is frustrated at being stuck in his apartment all the time.  Another source of frustration is his relationship with Lisa; while he thinks they have no future because they are so different, she is very much in love and can’t understand why he is not more enthusiastic about them being together. Grace Kelly does a great job in the role, and there seems to be real chemistry between the characters.  However, it is Thelma Ritter who makes a bigger impression – and nearly steals all of the scenes she is in, as the sharp minded and quick talking Stella.

The ending has been somewhat maligned, for reasons I won’t mention here, as to do so would be to give away spoilers, but I personally liked it, especially the very last couple of scenes.

This is not a film with lots of twists and turns and a lot of action – in fact there is very little action, but I still thought there was plenty of suspense, and would certainly watch this film again.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: John Michael Hayes, Cornell Woolrich

Main cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr

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This is one of the most famous films of all time, and probably needs no introduction!  It is the lavish and ambitious adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s epic, telling the story of the manipulative Scarlett O’Hara and the roguish Rhett Butler, during and after the war.

Some adaptations are disastrous, but I felt that this certainly did the novel justice; having recently read the book I wanted to see the film while the story was fresh in my mind.  There are some slight changes (for instance Scarlett’s first two children Wade and Ella are not in the film at all), but overall the film remains faithful to the original story.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh are perfect in the two main roles (maybe I think this because they are forever associated with the characters and even when reading the book – having not seen the film at that time – I pictured them as Rhett and Scarlett).  It is certainly difficult to imagine Basil Rathbone – Mitchell’s original choice for the role – as Rhett.  Over 1400 actresses read for the part of Scarlett and 400 of those were given screen tests – but it’s hard to imagine that they could have picked a better actress for the part than Leigh.  However, the best performances in the film came from Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, one of the house servants at Scarlett’s home; and Olivia de Havilland as Ashley’s wife Melanie (McDaniel and Leigh received Oscars for their roles, while de Havilland and Gable were nominated for their parts).

I did lose myself in the movie – it’s very long at almost 4 hours, but it didn’t feel like it – but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a a movie with a lot of sadness and tragedy – my emotions were certainly put through the wringer!  As when reading the book, I veered from dislike of Scarlett to a begrudging respect for her, and I found myself liking Rhett despite myself – but the real heroine of this story is surely Melanie – who was full of grace, kindness and forgiveness.

The cinematography is lush and vivid, considering that the film was made in 1939 – it simply looks fantastic and certainly immerses the viewer right into the story.

Well worth watching – but you need to put a whole evening aside for it, and it may be as well to keep something cheerful put by for afterwards!

Year of release: 1939

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor (uncredited), Sam Wood (uncredited)

Writers: Margaret Mitchell (book), Sidney Howard, Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling, John Van Druten

Main cast: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Leslie Howard

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Click here for my review of the novel.

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

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Gene Kelly is Jerry Mulligan, a former GI, who has decided to stay on in Paris after World War II.  He spends his days painting and trying to sell his pictures, but is constantly short of money and only just ekes out a living.  When a rich heiress, Milo Roberts (Nina Foch) sees him and decides to sponsor him, it becomes apparent that she is interested in more than just his art….but meanwhile Jerry has fallen in love with French girl Lise (Leslie Caron); however Lise has a secret that she is hiding from Jerry.

After watching and loving Singin’ In The Rain, I was eager to see more of Gene Kelly’s dancing, and this film fit the bill.  There is a more subtle note to the dancing in this film (except for the last 20 minutes) and less of the showier numbers that appeared in Singin’ In The Rain.  Nonetheless, Kelly’s dancing is still a real joy to watch, and I enjoyed the musical numbers.

Nina Foch was terrific and beautiful as Milo, and Oscar Levant as Jerry’s best friend Adam Cook – a fantastic pianist with a sarcastic sense of humour – also had some great moments.  However, Leslie Caron was less convincing – while she could certainly dance well, her acting was pretty shaky in parts.  To be fair however, it was her debut film performance, and she was not the first choice for the film; originally Cyd Charisse was supposed to play Lise, but had to turn the role down when she discovered she was pregnant (I would have loved to have seen Charisse in the part).

Towards the end of the film, there is a huge, lavish, extravagant and colourful dance number which goes on for about 16 minutes.  I’ve read mixed reviews about this; some people think it serves no real purpose other than to show off the dancing itself.  That may well be true; however, at the time it was probably a brave and unusual thing to do – there is actually no dialogue in the last 20 or so minutes of the film – and I really liked the dance number, which even had it’s own mention in the opening credits, and was called The American In Paris Ballet (although there is also some fabulous tap dancing in it).

Definitely another feel good movie – and certainly one I’d recommend!

Year of release: 1951

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Writer: Alan Jay Lerner

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, Oscar Levant

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In this 1957 movie Cary Grant is playboy Nickie Farrente, and Deborah Kerr is reticent former night club singer Terry McKay.  They meet on a transatlantic cruise from Europe to New York, and end up falling in love.  However, they are both engaged to other people, and so at the end of the cruise they agree to meet up in six months time – at the top of the Empire State Building – after they have sorted their lives out.  But then fate steps in…will their love survive?

This film is actually a remake of the 1939 film, Love Affair, both directed by Leo McCarey.  I’ve not seen the earlier film, but certainly intend to for comparison purposes.

I think that this movie is so well known that most people know the ‘twist’ and possibly how things turn out, but I’m not going to put spoilers in this review.  Suffice to say that it was a lovely if imperfect film (to me anyway).  Cary Grant displays his classic easy charm, and Deborah Kerr is perfect as the more reserved Terry (I much preferred her in this film than in another film pairing the two actors – The Grass Is Greener).

There is more comedy in the first half, and this is eschewed in the second half for a more sentimental tone.  I liked the characters very much and cared about what happened to them at the end.  I thought the pacing of the film was almost perfect, the only (tiny) gripe being that there were a couple of musical numbers – although this film is not a musical – which seemed slightly unnecessary.  Overall though, this a lovely film, and certainly recommended for fans of romantic films.

Year of release: 1957

Director: Leo McCarey

Writers: Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart, Leo McCarey, Mildred Cram

Main cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr

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A collaboration between a Chicago economist (Levitt) and a New York journalist (Dubner) this book takes the subject of economics, and doesn’t so much turn it on its head, as tilt it to see things from a different angle.

They ask such questions as What caused the crime rate to fall dramatically in the 1990s?  What do Sumo Wrestlers and Schoolteachers have in common?  How much does a child’s name matter?  They then attempt to answer such questions with a combination of empirical research and statistics.  The book often disputes conventional wisdom and explains things from a different angle.

The narration is lively and fun to read.  The subjects covered are all interesting and certainly make the reader think.  It doesn’t always go hugely indepth, but it definitely provides enough to make someone want to go and find out more.  It also encourages the reader to ask more questions and perhaps not always accept the first and most obvious answer to questions.

Most importantly, it’s fun to read, and never patronising, and if it causes interest in subjects which previously a reader may have thought boring or too complicated, that can only be a good thing.

I would certainly recommend this book, and look forward to reading the follow up, Super-Freakonomics’.

(Authors’ website can be found here.)

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Frequently topping ‘best musical’ lists (the American Film Industry voted it the best musical ever made) and appearing high on any list of film favourites, this really is a delightful film that deserves all the accolades it has received.

Gene Kelly is Don Lockwood, a star of silent movies (the film is set in the 1920s), who has to make the transition from silent to talking movies.  For Don this is not a problem, but for his co-star Lina Lamont, it most certainly is – Lina has an incredibly irritating voice, and cannot act or sing.  Additionally, Don and Lina are in a fake relationship, the only purpose of which is to garner publicity.  When Don meets aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) he starts to fall for her.  She is brought in to dub Lina’s voice in the talking movies, but Lina is not happy.  Will true love win out….?

Man films are described as ‘feel good’ movies – this is one film that is especially deserving of this description.  The high points?  There’s just so many; I loved the ‘Moses Supposes’ dance routine, performed by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor (who plays Don’s best friend Cosmo).  It’s incredibly vibrant, fluid and so graceful to watch – and makes you smile too.  O’Connor also performs the fantastic solo number ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ where he does the incredible trick of running up the walls and completing the move with a somersault.  Supposedly O’Connor was so drained by this sequence that when he finished filming it, he went to bed for three days straight – only to find upon his return to work that the footage had been lost and he would have to film it all again.  The result however, is breath-taking.  I also loved Gene Kelly’s dance to the title song.  His sheer exuberance and happiness shines through and is totally infectious – and there’s no doubt about it, Kelly is simply mesmerising when he dances.  I found it hard to take my eyes off him.  A special mention also for the sultry nightclub dance number with Kelly and a stunning Cyd Charisse (with possibly the most fantastic pair of legs ever seen on celluloid).

Gene Kelly is simply amazing throughout this film, and Donald O’Connor, who like his character, plays it for laughs, is just perfect as his best friend; Jean Hagen also puts in a great comic turn as Lina Lamont, and a very young Debbie Reynolds is adorable.

Any low points?  In a word – no.  This is a film to watch time and again, and one that surely can’t fail to make you feel good.  A definite 10 out of 10!

Year of release: 1952

Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Writers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen

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Click here for my review of the 2012 (started) West End Theatre production.

Click here for my review of the book ‘Singin’ In The Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece’ by Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar.

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Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr play Lord Victor and Lady Hilary Ryall, a once aristocratic couple who have fallen on hard times, so open their stately home to paying tourists.  Charles Delacro (Robert Mitchum), a Texan millionaire is one such tourist who wanders into the wrong room, meets Hilary and is instantly attracted to her.  Hilary also feels the attraction and before long is running up to London for a secret tryst with Charles.  Meanwhile, Victor is upset at the thought of his wife falling in love with another man, and has a plan up his sleeve for getting her back…

This film is billed as a romantic comedy, and if you’re thinking that the above storyline doesn’t sound like a usual storyline for that genre – well so was I.  And indeed the first part of the film had little romance and even less comedy.  The storyline seemed to take massive leaps in a short period of time – Hilary and Charles met, and she went almost immediately from annoyance at his intrusion, to feeling mad about him and running off to meet him (although she had previously been apparently happy with her husband).  Victor meanwhile was lamenting the fact that his wife had fallen in love with another man, when she barely seemed to have had time to have exchanged more than a few words with him!  (I actually checked to make sure that I hadn’t missed out a huge chunk of the movie somehow).

However, just when I was starting to think I wouldn’t enjoy the film, things picked up with the arrival of Hilary and Victor’s vivacious friend Hattie, played wonderfully by Jean Simmons.  Thereafter, there was actually a lot of very funny moments and the film was most enjoyable.  Despite a rather disjointed first part, I was very glad I stuck with it!

What was perfect from beginning to end was the cast.  Cary Grant plays the part of the slightly scatterbrained Lord, who sees more than he lets on, to perfection, bringing humor and pathos to the character.  Robert Mitchum seemed an unusual choice for a romantic lead, but he was great – it’s no mean feat to make a character likeable when that same character is vigorously attempting to break up a marriage!  (And if you were thinking that it’s unlikely a woman would be tempted to pick Mitchum over Grant, here it’s just about plausible).  However, the part that really grabbed me was that of Hattie – Jean Simmons was so wonderful in this role.  It’s easy to imagine that Hattie could have been a very annoying character in the hands of  a different actress, but here she was sweet, sassy, lovable, exasperating and very very funny.  A special mention also for Moray Watson, who played the Sellers the butler.  Most of his interaction was with Victor, and he was the perfect foil for Grant’s bumbling Lord.  The only part that didn’t seem to stand out was that of Hilary, around whom the storyline revolved…I don’t think this was anything to do wtih Deborah Kerr’s portrayal, which was fine – it was more that the character was a difficult one to warm to.

And how does it all end?  Well, I’m not going to spoil it for you – you’ll just have to watch it and see…

Overall then, while this is not one of the best films I’ve seen recently, the cast made it definitely worth watching.  Any fans of any of the cast should certainly check this one out.

Year of release: 1960

Director: Stanley Donen

Writers: Hugh Williams, Margaret Vyner

Main cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons, Robert Mitchum

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