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Archive for April, 2012

This book was written in 1957, and set in 1963.  Nuclear war has wiped out the Northern Hemisphere, and radioactive winds are making their way down to the Southern Hemisphere.  The people living in the southernmost countries know that when the winds reach them, they too will die. 

There are five main characters in the book, which is largely set in Melbourne, where people are trying to go about their daily lives in as normal a way as possible.  People continue to go to work and in many cases, continue to plan for a future which they know they will never see.  One of the characters is American Submarine Captain, Lieutenant Dwight Towers, who was in Australia when war broke out.  He knows that his wife and children back home in America must be dead, but he cannot accept it.  He forms a friendship with Moira Davidson, a young woman who drinks too much and parties too hard to blot out her anger at her imminent death due to a war that her country had no part of.  Peter and Mary Holmes are a young couple with a baby daughter, and the cast of characters is rounded out by John Osbourne, an Australian scientist.  When Dwight’s submarine is commissioned to investigate radio signals coming from Seattle, Peter and John are part of the staff who go with him.

I enjoyed this book, but can’t help feeling that it is somewhat dated now.  I would like to believe that in the face of such horror, people would still remain courteous and civil, and would continue to keep living as normal a life as possible – but I just don’t see that happening.  It seems more realistic to imagine that there would be widespread panic, and that chaos and anarchy would descend.  All that most of these people – Moira excluded, although even she seems somewhat accepting of her fate – seem to feel is a vague sense of sadness.  For example, Mary Holmes seems more concerned with the prospect of her baby daughter catching Measles than dying of radiation. 

And yet, it is this sense of normalcy, of routine, that lends the book a chilling air.  People carry on, because what else can they do?  A mother won’t stop worrying about her daughter getting an illness that can be avoided, just because a far bigger problem is on the way.

There were moments of real poignancy; when John Osbourne buys a Ferrari that he can’t really handle, and takes up motor racing – because why not?  (It is not giving away anything too spoilerish to say that the motor race near the end of the book was one of my favourite parts.)   Dwight Towers goes shopping for gifts for his wife and children, knowing deep down that he will never be able to hand them over.  It was the moments like this that really made me think.  It’s always worth bearing in mind that the book was written during the Cold War, when nuclear warfare was a very real fear for many people.  It did make me think – what would I do?  What would you do?  Try and complete some kind of bucket list, sink into a deep depression, or just try and carry on as normal?  Who knows?  (And hopefully, we will never have to know.)

As I mentioned earlier, the book has not aged particularly well, and I found it hard to believe that most people would behave in the way that the characters here behaved.  For that reason, I did not find the book as chillling as other post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels which I have read.  However, for anyone with an interest in the genre, this is certainly a worthwhile addition to their collection, and I would recommend it.

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This 1953 film was adapted from a W. Somerset Maugham story. It was the third time the story had been adapted for the screen (it was made into a silent film named Sadie Thompson in 1928, and Joan Crawford starred in Rain in 1932, which was also an adaptation of the same story). Here, the lives of a group of Marines on an island in American Samoa, are shaken up by the arrival of sexy singer Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth). One of the Marines, Phil O’Hara (Aldo Ray) falls for her, but missionary Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer) believes that Sadie is a corrupting influence upon the people living on the island, and is determined to make her leave.

After watching this film, I read some reviews of it, which were largely critical; I have to say that I can see why. The film itself was an enjoyable enough story, and Rita Hayworth and Jose Ferrer in particular played their parts very well (Davidson was an odious and hypocritical character, adn Rita Hayworth embodied the sexy siren Sadie brilliantly).

Where the film falls short is that it doesn’t even seem to know what genre it’s supposed to be. When it started, I thought it was going to be a comedy, then a few songs from Rita Hayworth made me wonder if it was in fact a musical, but it then descends into drama. Hayworth and Ferrer run through the change of genres with relative ease, but I thought Aldo Ray was a bit wooden.

Overall, I would not say that it was a dreadul film, and it was a reasonable enough to fill up a couple of hours. However, it just isn’t very memorable, and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. I would be interested in seeing Joan Crawford in the role of Sadie (in Rain, as mentioned above), for comparison. I doubt that I would recommend this film, but I also wouldn’t run away from it screaming!

Year of release: 1953

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

Producer: Jerry Wald

Writers: W. Somertset Maugham (short story), Harry Kleiner

Main cast: Rita Hayworth, Aldo Ray, Jose Ferrer, Russell Collins

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In the mid-1960s, Lily Owens is 14 years old, and lives with her unforgiving and remote father on a peach farm in South Carolina.  Lily has grown up with the knowledge that when she was 4 years old, she accidentally killed her mother.  Lonely and sad, her only friend is the black maid Rosaleen.

When racial tension explodes into ugly violence, Lily and Rosaleen run away, and end up at a home in Tiburon, where they stay with three sisters, August, June and May, who keep bees, and make and sell honey.  As Lily grows to enjoy her new life, she learns not only about keeping bees, but also lessons about life, and her own past.

I really enjoyed this book, although there were some aspects of it which could have put me off.  The story is narrated by Lily, and the author’s ability to speak in a child’s voice is astounding and entirely convincing.  Lily is honest – sometimes painfully so, and to her own detriment – but she is a very believable character.  I also thought that Rosaleen was an excellent character, combining pride and honesty with a humorous lack of decorum that makes Lily (and sometimes me) wince.

August – the sister who is the driving force behind the honey making business – is a very likeable person, but perhaps just a little too perfect, although this is counterbalanced somewhat by her angry sister June, and her emotionally unbalanced sister May.

The book balances moments of tragedy and anger, with times of friendship and joy, and all of it was captivating reading.

However, the book does have a number of cliches running through it.  The Daughters of Mary group – a set of (mainly) women who come to worship at August’s makeshift church seem very stereotypical, and I had a job distinguishing the characters in the group from each other.  Also, Lily’s father T. Ray, is very one-dimensional…he’s cruel and without redemption, although a slight effort is made to explain his behaviour.

The book only really scratches the surface of racial tension and ugly bigotry that happened in the era described, but as the book is told from a naive child’s point of view, this is understandable. (This book cannot begin to compare to the child’s narrative in the excellent To Kill A Mockingbird, although I cannot help wondering whether this book was in any part inspired by that particular classic.)  There was also a strong religious thread running through the book.  Although I am not religious, this did not bother me, but it may bother other readers.

Despite the flaws though, this is an enjoyable and easy to read story of a young girl’s awakening, and I would certainly recommend it.  I would definitely be interested in reading more by Sue Monk Kidd.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This film was made in 1969, some time after the golden age for Hollywood Musicals,  However, Hello Dolly is reminiscent of the flamboyant, feel-good, funny musicals of the 40s and 50s.  Barbra Streisand (too young for the role, but she gives it all she’s got) plays widow Dolly Levi, who makes a living by – among other things – running a matchmaker service of sorts.  She is determined to marry the rich but dour Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), but he has decided to propose to Irene Malloy – a woman Dolly introduced him to.   While attempting to ensure that Horace and Irene don’t get together, Dolly also gets involved with the love lives of two naive young men who work at Vandergelder’s store.

This film was problematic in many ways for the producers, and director Gene Kelly – not least because Walter Matthau detested Barbra Streisand, thought she had no talent, and refused to talk to her at all unless the script called for  it (he also stopped speaking to co-star Michael Crawford during the filming, after Crawford placed a bet on a horse named Hello Dolly – which won its race – because the name of the horse reminded Matthau of Streisand).  No doubt there were some tensions on set, but fortunately it does not come through on the screen.

The film might be slightly over-long, with a lot of story to pack in, but it is still a joy from start to finish.  Jam-packed with catchy songs, and terrific dancing, it’s full of colour, life and laughter.  Although Streisand clearly IS too young for the role, she still plays the part well, and makes Dolly a thoroughly loveable woman.  The character could have been irritating, but Streisand allows Dolly’s love for life, and desire for happiness shine through – as well as her vulnerabilities.

Matthau was fine as the grumpy Vandergelder; I do think plenty of other people could have played the part equally as well, or possibly even better, but nonetheless Matthau’s portrayal really made me smile.

The supporting actors, particularly Marianne MacAndrew, and a young Michael Crawford, all play their parts well, and their stories are a worthwhile part of the film.

Admittedly, the film isn’t perfect; the running time of almost two and a half hours is a lot for a musical, although there is a story being told here as well.  Unlike many musicals where the plot is just there as a way of stringing the song and dance numbers together, this film would work without the musical aspects – and indeed is adapted from a non-musical play, which in turn was adapted from Thornton Wilder’s story ‘The Matchmaker’.  Also, some of the cast tend to over-act, although this is not uncommon in musical comedies.

However, what the film lacks in precision, it makes up for in enthusiasm and laughter.  This film left me with a warm happy feeling, and is perfect entertainment if you like lovely songs and lots of laughs.

Year of release: 1969

Director: Gene Kelly

Producers: Roger Edens, Ernest Lehman

Writers: Thornton Wilder (book), Michael Stewart (book of stage play), Ernest Lehman, Johann Nestroy

Main cast: Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, Marianne McAndrew, Danny Lockin, E.J. Peaker

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Gregory Peck was one of the 20th century’s most loved screen idols.  Tall and handsome, he is forever linked with (and perhaps confused with) his  most famous role, that of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).  This book chronicles his life, from his early stage career, through to his largely successful life in Hollywood and his humanitarian campaigns and activities.  It also describes his private life, including his first marriage to Greta, his second marriage to Veronique, and the tragic suicide of eldest son Jonathan.

I thought this book was clearly well researched, and well written.  Lynn Haney apparently was a friend of Gregory Peck, and the warmth she feels for him comes through loud and clear.  She does however manage to remain objective, and although she clearly holds Peck in high regard, there are constant reminders throughout that he was a man, not a god, and he had flaws and idiosyncrasies which made him all too human.

It’s a shame that the book does not seem to have any first person interviews with Peck or any of his family.  There are plenty of quotes from other interviews however.  (Early on in the book, Haney mentions another biography of Peck, and notes that the author of that book never met with nor spoke to Gregory Peck at all; implying that she had spoken to him.  As they were apparently friends, this is not surprising, but it does not appear that he had any part in the writing of this book.)  Having said that though, it’s clear that Haney knows her subject well.

The book discusses most of Peck’s films – the hits and the misses – giving anecdotes from the set, and offering glimpses into the actor’s interactions and relationships with colleagues.  It does not shy away from discussing disagreements that Peck had with other actors, producers or directors, or his disappointment with the way some projects turned out.

There is a saying that you should never meet your heroes because you will always be disappointed – you could broaden this saying and add that it’s best not to know too much about your heroes in case you are disappointed.  I can’t deny that at some points while reading this biography I read things that did disappoint me somewhat.  But I also believe that no man or woman on earth is perfect (whatever perfect is), and that all we can do is the best that we can at the time.  At the end of this book, I was left with the impression that Gregory Peck had done just that…and he will always be one of my favourite actors.

This isn’t the only available biography of Gregory Peck – it might not even be the best one around, but for fans, it is definitely worth reading.

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I’m not sure whether this is a World War II movie with a romantic backdrop, or a romance with a World War II backdrop. Either way, it is thoroughly entertaining. William Holden is Joe ‘Pete’ Peterson, a Sergeant in the American Army, stationed in the Italian mountains. While on leave in Naples, he meets WAC Eleanor MacKay (Nancy Olson) and a romance develops. However, Joe still has obligations to the army, and it becomes doubtful whether he will return alive or not…

William Holden and Nancy Olson made four films together, including the brilliant Sunset Boulevard. They obviously had chemistry on-screen, and it comes into play here. Holden – an under-rated actor – is superb as Joe, combining bravery and heroics with vulnerability and hesitation, that makes for a fully rounded and believeable character. Holden was also one of the most beautiful actors around at the time that this was filmed (and before his looks were sadly ravaged by alcohol, although alcohol certainly never affected his talent for his craft). Nancy Olson also does a great job as Eleanor, somehow bringing both warmth and coolness to the role!

The romantic aspect – if slightly rushed (as often seems to be the case in films from this era) – is luscious and I did care for both characters. The war scenes are disturbing, as soldiers get picked off arbitrarily, and men see their friends dying all around them.

The blending of the two genres works well here. The film is very tender and sweet, with a perfect ending (which I won’t spoil). Definitely recommended – in fact, it has jumped straight into my top ten films of all time.

Year of release: 1951

Director: Michael Curtiz

Producer: Anthony Veiller

Writers: Orin Jannings, Richard Tregaskis

Main cast: William Holden, Nancy Olson

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This film is essentially a remake of 1932’s Red Dust – and the film-makers obviously thought that the only man who could reprise Clark Gable’s role from the original was Gable himself – because he is the star of both films. Gable plays Victor Marswell, a big game hunter in Kenya. When earthy, sexy Eloise Kelly (Ava Gardner) arrives, the couple have a brief relationship. Things change when Donald and Linda Nordley (Donald Sinden and Grace Kelly) come to stay, Victor falls for Linda – and the feeling seems mutual…

I haven’t seen the film of which this is apparently a remake, but most reviews say that the earlier film is the better one. However, I really enjoyed Mogambo. Clark Gable is always worth watching, and although he looks older here, he still has that sex appeal that he is known for. He is well matched with Ava Gardner, who is simply stunning. Beautiful, sexy and funny, a large part of what made this film so enjoyable, was Ava’s performance (she more or less steals the show). I’ve always thought that Grace Kelly was over-rated as an actress, and although her performance here is fine, she pales in comparison to her two co-stars.

The adventure aspect of the story takes a back seat to the romance/love triangle aspect, but this is still an exciting and engaging film. I particularly loved the scenes were Eloise Kelly was feeding the animals.

If there was anything about this film that I didn’t like, it was probably the ending. I won’t spoil it by saying what happens, but I was surprised and slightly disappointed. Nonetheless, this is a very enjoyable film, which held my attention throughout. Definitely recommended.

Year of release: 1953

Director: John Ford

Writers: Wilson Collison (play), John Lee Mahin

Main cast: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden

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