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Archive for July, 2011

This is a fun film from 1953, with Doris Day as famous sharpshooter Calamity Jane and Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok.  Calamity promises to bring a big singing star to Deadwood, but through a case of mistaken identity, brings the wrong person.  However, the girl she brings – Katie – turns out to be a hit and stays in Deadwood.  Problems ensue when both the Lieutenant and Wild Bill fall for Katie…

Well, if you’re looking for historical accuracy or to learn more about the real Calamity Jane, this film is not the one to watch!  However, if you’re looking for some uplifting tunes and a great deal of fun, then I’d recommend watching it.  Doris Day is as gorgeous as ever in the lead role, and even though none of the men in Deadwood see Calamity as anything other than one of the guys, it’s impossible to cover up Doris’s beauty to the viewer.  She hams up her part and seems to have a lot of fun with it.  She portrays Calamity as a woman capable of holding her own against any man, but also nursing vulnerabilities that she’s afraid to show.  But apart from her beautiful song ‘Secret Love’, this film does not dwell too much on serious matters and instead just provides pure entertainment.

Howard Keel was great as Wild Bill.  I far preferred his part in this to his role in Kiss Me Kate, and Bill was a great foil to the adorable feisty Calamity.  The two leads have great chemistry together and their duets The Black Hills Of Dakota and I Can Do Without You work very well.  I also really liked the aforementioned Secret Love, and the opening song The Deadwood Stage (Whip Crackaway).

Overall some good laughs, likeable leads, the lovely Doris Day, and a singalong score – definitely worth watching, especially for fans of musicals, or light hearted Westerns.

Year of release: 1953

Director: David Butler

Writer: James O’Hanlon

Main cast: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie, Philip Carey

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Click here for my review of Willenhall Musical Theatre Company’s 2013 stage production.

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Before anyone watches this film they should probably know that it in no way attempts to tell the story of Giacomo Casanova; instead this is a fictionalised account of a specific period in Casanova’s life.  It’s full of historical inaccuracies, but it’s clearly not trying to present any semblance of truth, and instead is more a comedy of errors, with plenty of visual gags.

In essense, the infamous seducer Casanova (Heath Ledger) is ordered to wed a virgin, or else be arrested on crimes of fornication.  He quickly proposes to a young girl who is smitten with him, but then he meets the headstrong and intelligent Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) and falls for her.  However, she is not aware of his true identity, and to complicate matters, she is engaged to a distant relative who she has never met.  Casanova pretends to be the fiance, while in the meantime, the young girl who he previously became engaged to is the object of affection for Francesca’s brother – who also has no idea of Casanova’s real identity.  Sounds complicated, but on the screen it all plays out well, with plenty of moments of humour.  Throughout all this, Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons) is on Casanova’s tail and is also trying to find a famous heretical writer – but further identity mix ups get in the way…!

The film is strictly played for laughs and on the whole it works well.  Heath Ledger looks nothing like how I would expect Casanova to look, but he plays the role well and with considerable charm – and looks like he’s having great fun doing it.  Jeremy Irons seems to positively revel in playing the evil Bishop who wants to capture and kill Casanova, and Oliver Platt is also wonderful as Francesca’s unknown fiance.  Omid Dajlili plays Lupo, Casanova’s manservant, and provides many laughs.  Mention should also be made of Lena Olin, as Francesca’s mother.  She was very funny and looked absolutely beautiful.  The only slightly weak link in the cast was Sienna Miller, who was never really convincing enough as the feisty woman who Casanova falls for.  However there was plenty enough in the film to make up for that.

Venice itself looked gorgeous, and is shown off to its best effect here (it made me want to visit there!), and the costumes were also terrific.  The classical musical score, including some of Vivaldi’s work was perfect for the film, and so nice in fact that I would like to buy the soundtrack to the film.

This film is basically an old fashioned romp through 18th century Venice.  Low on accuracy, but high on laughs with a smattering of romance (although the emphasis is definitely on comedy), and a nice twist at the end.  Overall, an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.

Year of release: 2005

Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Writers: Jeffrey Hatcher, Kimberley Simi, Michael Cristofer

Main cast: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Oliver Platt, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Omin Djalili

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A very interesting book, which weaves fact and fiction to great effect.  There are two threads to the narrative, and the two stories are linked.

In the present day, Jordan Scott, who was excommunicated from his community of First Latter Day Saints, is returning to Utah for the first time in several years.  His mother, with whom he has had no contact since leaving the community, stands accused of murdering his father.  The Latter Day Saints still practice polygamy and she was his 19th wife.

Meanwhile, the story of another famous 19th wife – Ann Eliza Young, nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, leader of the Latter Day Saints in the 19th century, escapes from the devout religious community and then fought to bring about an end to polgamy. Brigham and Ann Eliza Young were of course actual people, and while the author states that the book is a work of fiction, he has clearly researched the subject well.

I really enjoyed both parts of the book; the present day story showed clearly the effect of growing up in a polygamous community, as well as being an intriguing mystery.  As a narrator, Jordan grew on me (and also grew up a lot), as he used his natural intelligence and resourcefulness to try to save the mother who abandoned him years earlier.  His vulnerability really shone through, and it was interesting to see the character develop.  I also genuinely had no idea how the story would turn out.  The only slight disappointment was that the ending seemed very abrupt.

The historical parts of the story were very interesting, and definitely left me wanting to learn more about Brigham Young, his brave nineteenth wife, and the legacy of their actions and beliefs.  Ann Eliza was shown as not perfect (which made the story more credible, but a very strong, courageous and intelligent lady.  Brigham himself probably received a fair portrayal – Ann Eliza was scathing about him, but was able to recognise his many achievements.

Overall, I found this a fascinating and absorbing read, and would definitely recommend it.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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Gigi (Leslie Caron) is a young girl living in Paris in 1900, and being raised by her grandmother and great aunt to be a courtisan.  Gaston (Louis Jourdan) is a rich Parisian playboy, who has become bored of his superficial lifestyle.  He and Gigi have a platonic friendship, but as she becomes more sophisticated and grown up, the dynamic of their relationship starts to change…

This film, based on the novel by French author Colette, was not the last musical released by the MGM studios, but it was the last musical made by the Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (this unit was responsible for many of the classic musicals of the day, including Easter Parade, An American in Paris, and of course, Singin’ In The Rain).  The unit’s swansong did very well, being nominated for nine Oscar awards, and winning all of them, breaking the then record of eight Oscars, held by Gone With The Wind.

I thought the film was good, but not great.  Some parts of it definitely worked – Leslie Caron was a delight as Gigi.  I was not convinced by her performance in An American In Paris (although I love An American In Paris and never get bored of watching it), but here she was great, and actually rather adorable.  Audrey Hepburn was originally picked to play the part (having played Gigi on stage before she was famous), but due to other filming commitments, she was not available.  Audrey is one of my favourite actresses, and I think she would have been perfect in the role, but Leslie Caron really worked well.  Louis Jourdan was also great as the cynical and bored Gaston – making what could have been rather a dislikeable character into someone who the viewer liked a lot.  Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans provided good support as Gigi’s grandmother and great aunt.

There were some lovely songs, in particular the title number sung by Louis Jourdan as he wanders throughout Paris, realising that his feelings for Gigi are changing; and the incredibly catchy The Night They Invented Champagne which I couldn’t get out of my head after watching the film.

Paris itself looks fabulous – most of the film was shot on location there, and it really is a lovely setting, very colourful and pretty.

There were some parts that I didn’t like – Maurice Chevalier’s character Honore (the uncle of Gaston) seemed an unnecessary and distasteful character.  This is no criticism of Chevalier’s acting, which was fine, but the character was hard for me to warm to.  In one scene Honore is highly delighted upon hearing that a former girlfriend of Gaston’s has tried to kill herself after he ended her relationship.  Honore toasts Gaston and says that he hopes this will be the first of many suicides.  It may have been written flippantly, but this scene did not sit well with me.  (Indeed the whole storyline of two women training their young relation to be a courtesan could be distasteful, although it was handled fairly well and with humour.)

I was also slightly disappointed that there was no dancing in this film!  I love to see fabulous dancing in musicals, and with Leslie Caron being an excellent ballet dancer, it feels like a missed opportunity not to show off her skills.

Overall then, it’s an enjoyable film, but ultimately a forgettable one.  Worth watching for fans of musicals.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Writers: Colette (novel), Alan Jay Lerner

Main cast: Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan

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Click here for my review of the book.

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Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), a former tennis pro, discovers that his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) has had an affair with crime author Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings).  Halliday is now back in London where the Wendices’ live, from his native New York.  Tony dreams up an ingenious plan to murder Margot in order that she can’t leave him, and so that he can will inherit her fortune.  He blackmails an old acquaintance into carrying out the murder, but things go wrong, and Tony has to come up with a Plan B very quickly…

I enjoyed this Alfred Hitchcock classic very much.  It wasn’t quite in the realm of To Catch A Thief, or North By Northwest, but there was a gripping storyline and plenty of tension.  The twists and turns were very clever, and I was never quite sure how things were going to turn out.

Grace Kelly looked stunning – as always – but I did think that at times her acting was a little unconvincing.  However, she was certainly good enough overall for this not to detract from the film.  Ray Milland was very convincing in his role, although his coldness and calculating nature meant that it was very hard to warm to his character, and I had no sympathy for him.  (Although Milland was excellent, I can’t help wondering if the character would have been more likeable if someone like Jimmy Stewart had played the part; but I suspect that the film may have suffered, had the character been more sympathetic.)  Cummings was fine as Halliday, although he was given little to do for much of the storyline.

Dial M For Murder is instantly recognisable as a Hitchcock movie – it has all the dramatic music and theatrical flourishes – possibly because the script was adapted from a successful play.  Most of the action takes place in the Wendices’ apartment, and there is a small cast, giving something of a claustrophobic atmosphere.  This is something that Hitchcock also did in Rear Window (also with Grace Kelly) and Rope, and it’s an effective trick.

This isn’t a murder mystery, as the viewer knows exactly what has happened from the outset – the mystery lies in whether or not Tony Wendice will get away with his plan.  I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who is yet to see it, but this is a gripping film, and any fans of Hitchcock or film noir should see it.

Year of release: 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writer: Frederick Knott (adapted from his own play)

Main cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

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Singin’ In The Rain is one of Hollywood’s best loved films.  The American Film Industry named it the Best Musical Film of all time.  They also listed it as the fifth best film of any genre of all time, and it came the top 20 films of both their lists of romantic movies, and comedy movies.  More importantly, it is loved by film fans all over the world, even almost 60 years after it was released.

This book tells the story of how the film was created, beginning right at the genesis of the project, when screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green were asked to write a musical using MGMs back catalogue of Freed/Brown songs.  All they knew was that it was to be called ‘Singin’ In The Rain’; they had no guidance regarding what the storyline should be about.  The book describes the writing process, and then goes on to describe how all the main players in the cast came on board, providing short but detailed biographies of the main cast.

There are detailed descriptions of the various problems encountered by the cast and crew during filming, and also of the personal relationships between the people involved in the film.  It also gives details of how the dances were worked out, how the sets were created, and how the characters were developed.  (And finds time to debunk a few myths – for example, despite popular reports that milk was used instead of water for the title dance, this is not true.)

Finally the book describes the impact which the film had on the cast and crew, the critics, and the viewing public, and discusses its enduring appeal (giving details of life after the film for the main cast).

This book is jam-packed with details and facts, but it is all presented in a very readable and engaging style.  It’s clear that the authors love their subject (and indeed, who doesn’t?!), and have carried out exhaustive research for this book.

Above all, it is a fitting tribute to a wonderful film, and is definitely recommended for fans of the film, or anyone interested in how movies were made.  And I guarantee that when you’ve finished it, you will want to get the film out and watch it!

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Click here for my review of the 1952 film.

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

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Kiss Me Kate was an MGM musical, adapted from Cole Porter’s Broadway play of the same name.  The plot of the Broadway production was ‘a play within a play’.  Here of course, it is ‘a play within a film’.  Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson play Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, a divorced couple who are reunited on stage at least, as Katherine and Petruchio in Cole Porter’s play ‘Kiss Me Kate’, based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming Of The Shrew.  Although they are obviously still drawn to each other, their differing personalities cause them to repeatedly clash, and matters are complicated by Lois Lane(!), played superbly by Ann Miller.  Lois is set to play Bianca, the younger sister of Katherine, in Kiss Me Kate, and flirts constantly with Fred.  Furthermore, Lilli is now engaged to someone else!

Kiss Me Kate was a big success for MGM, and something of a comeback for Cole Porter, whose career had taken a dip prior to this.  Certainly, there are some lovely songs -and dance routines – in the film.  My favourites were It’s Too Darn Hot, Why Can’t You Behave? and Always True You In My Fashion, all sung by Ann Miller (she was accompanied on Always True… by Tommy Rall; and Brush Up Your Shakespeare, sung by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore.  All of these numbers also featured some spectacular dances – Ann Miller was an incredible dancer, and to watch her dancing over the furniture in It’s Too Darn Hot, or skipping across rooftops with Tommy Rall in Why Can’t You Behave? was a treat.  The Brush Up Your Shakespeare dance is also amusing and delightful.  Kathryn Grayson played the part of Lilli very well, and she and Miller not only inhabited their roles in the film, but also their roles in the play within the film very comfortably.  (For my money, Miller was easily the best performer in the film, and credit should also be given to Tommy Rall who partners her in some excellent dancing.)

So with all this going for it, I was surprised that I didn’t enjoy this film more.  There were some great parts, and certainly some real talent involved, but I think Howard Keel didn’t work for me as a leading man.  He did actually have a long and successful career as a leading man, but I didn’t really find him convincing (although he was better when playing Fred than when playing Petruchio).  Of course, it’s all personal taste, and Keel has a very strong following, but I could never really warm up to him in this movie. However, I suspect that it may be the type of film where enjoyment increases with repeated viewing.

Overall, it isn’t one I would rush to watch again, but it’s worth seeing even if only for Ann Miller’s terrific performance.

Year of release: 1953

Director: George Sidney

Writers: Sam Spewack, Bella Spewack, William Shakespeare (play ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’)

Main cast: Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Tommy Rall

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