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Archive for September, 2012

As the title suggests, this book is a collection of letters sent to and from comedian and actor Groucho Marx.  Groucho was a prolific letter writer, and corresponded with friends, colleagues, politicians, other writers, and many more.

I am not going to list the many people who received or sent the letters in this book – it would take too long, for one thing – but the book is a shining example of Groucho’s wit and wisdom, his acerbic sense of humour, and (to a lesser extent) his beliefs.

My favourite exchange was between Groucho and T.S. Eliot.  It was clear that Groucho was much in awe of Eliot’s work, and when the two met for dinner, he hoped for a ‘literary evening’ – only to discover that Eliot was equally in awe of Groucho, and just wanted to discuss Marx Brothers’ films!

I liked this book, and thought that it was great to dip in and out of – there were some extremely funny one-liners, and Groucho was also clearly a very astute man.  My only criticism is really an editorial one – a lot of the correspondents may not be known to people reading the book (I know that I certainly had to look some of them up to see who they were, and how they were connected to Groucho), and therefore, the context of the letters isn’t always entirely clear.

Nonetheless though, this was highly enjoyable read, and one that I would definitely recommend.

(For more information about Groucho Marx/The Marx Brothers, please click here.)

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This was Cary Grant’s penultimate film, before he retired from acting – and it shows that while he may have felt the time was coming when he should hang up his hat, he had certainly lost none of his charisma and screen presence. In this film, he plays against type as Walter Eckland, a slacker who is dragooned into living on an isolated island during WW2, from where he can report any signs of Japanese ships or planes. His life is shaken up with the arrival of schoolteacher Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron), who has been stranded on the island with a number of schoolgirls…

Cary Grant was a master at romantic comedies, and this is probably one of his best. I really liked Grant with a more scruffy unshaven look (he himself said that this role was the closest to what he was actually like in real life), and his performance here is spot on, and very funny. Leslie Caron is also great – she looks lovely and brings a lot of comedy to her role, although she always reminds me of Audrey Hepburn (and I actually think Audrey would have been wonderful in this role also).

The idea of two mis-matched people being thrown together is nothing new (see The African Queen and Heaven Knows Mr Allison, for two comparable films), and as this is a romantic comedy, you can probably guess where it’s going, although the ending is still a delightful surprise.

For my money, this is one of Cary Grant’s better films – I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would certainly recommend it!

Year of release: 1964

Director: Ralph Nelson

Producer: Robert Arthur

Writers: S. H. Barnett, Peter Stone, Frank Tarloff

Main cast: Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, Trevor Howard

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This 1967 film, based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, was perfect for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were three years into their marriage when they made it.

Due to the nature of the storyline (man tames independent woman and turns her into a meek and subservient wife), this is one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, but it is also – for my money – one of his funniest. I consider myself to be a feminist, but that doesnt preclude me from enjoying this play immensely – and happily I loved every minute of this adaptation.

Liz Taylor plays the wild natured Kate, and Richard Burton is the lusty, arrogant Petruchio, who determines to marry her for the dowry, and tames her by treating her badly – his methods include refusing to allow her to eat, turning up to their wedding in ragged clothes, and taking off soon after the wedding. However he starts to genuinely fall for her, and actually ends up being tamed himself.

Burton was used to the classics, and had performed in Shakespeare adaptations prior to making this film. It shows – he fitted right into the part and carried it off with ease. Taylor had not done anything like this before, and was apparently very nervous. She certainly pulled it off – as beautiful as she undoubtedly was, I never really rated her as much of an actress, but she captured Kate’s wild spirit, and later her more peaceful demeanour, perfectly.

The supporting cast are excellent – a young Michael York is Lucentio, the man who hopes to marry Kate’s sister Bianca, who is forbidden from marrying any young man until her sister is married, and Cyril Cusack is great as Grumio (Petruchio’s friend), and Victor Spinetti as Hortensio – another potential suitor to Bianca – is extremely funny.

The film is very colourful, and extremely witty, with genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and lots of physical comedy. I enjoyed it thoroughly from beginning to end, would certainly recommend it, and will definitely watch it again in the future.

Year of release: 1967

Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Producers: Franco Zeffirelli, Ricahrd Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard McWhorter

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Franco Zeffirelli, Paul Dehn, Suso Cecchi D’Amico

Main cast: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael York, Cyril Cusack, Michael Hordern, Alfred Lynch, Alan Webb, Natasha Pyne, Victor Spinetti

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Click here for my review of the RSC’s 2012 stage adaptation.

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This is the film adaptation of New York author Helene Hanff’s book, detailing the correspondence between herself and Frank Doel, the chief buyer at at Marks & Co. Antiquarian Booksellers, situated (naturally) at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. The correspondence started in 1949, when Helene contacted the store about obtaining some books. Although they never met, through their letters the friendship deepened, and Helene ended up writing not only to Frank, but also to his wife, and to other employees at the shop.

I adored the book, and was interested to see how it would be adapted into a film (having already been adapted into a successful stage play). It actually works perfectly on film; this is one of those rare occasions when I would say that my enjoyment of the film matched that of the book. Anne Bancroft plays Helene to perfection – capturing the sassy attitude that comes through so well in her letters. Anthony Hopkins is equally excellent as the mild mannered, gentlemanly Frank.

In some ways, it could be said that nothing much happens in this film, but in another sense, SO much happens. It is a film of deep friendship, affection and warmth – and all without a single profanity or sex scene. It is contemplative, affecting, deeply moving, and at times very very funny. It covers almost 20 years of letters, and shows how life changed for both Helene and Frank; she went from being a poor script-reader, to a successful script-writer, while he saw his two daughters grow up, and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

This is certainly not a film to watch if you want action, car chases and special effects. But if you want to see a lovely, warm story about friendship across the miles, then this is one that you shouldn’t miss.

Year of release: 1987

Director: David Hugh Jones

Producers: Mel Brooks, Randy Auerbach, Jo Lustig, Geoffrey Helman

Writers: Helene Hanff (book), James Roose-Evans, Hugh Whitemore

Main cast: Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Jean De Baer, Eleanor David, Mercedes Ruehl, Ian McNeice

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Click here for my review of Helene Hanff’s book.

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This 1941 films pairs Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, in one of three films they made together. However, whereas the other two (My Favorite Wife and The Awful Truth) are out-and-out comedies, this is more of a drama, with few laughs.

When the impulsive Roger and the more sensible Julie meet, they fall in love and get married – their happiness seems complete when Julie becomes pregnant, but tragedy strikes when Julie suffers a miscarriage. However, delight, happiness, and unexpected sorrow await the Adams, and we see them navigate their way through the joys and setbacks that life brings.

This is a strange film for me, because I really believe that Cary Grant did his best acting in this film and yet it is one of his least enjoyable films (from my point of view). The start of the film is interesting enough, where we see how Julie and Roger meet, and get together. However, after about the first 45 minutes, the film really started to drag, and although it is only a couple of hours long, it felt much longer! It was definitely what I would call a plodding film, but there is no denying that there were some genuinely touching moments. Without giving anything away, there is a scene where Roger is talking to a Judge, and this was very touching and filled with emotion. It certainly showed that there was more to Cary Grant than just the suave and charming gentleman which he played in so many of his films. Irene Dunne was also terrific, showing a real range of emotions. Also worth mentioning is Edgar Buchanan, as Applejack Carney, Roger’s friend who becomes a real support to the couple.

It’s such a shame – this film had the potential to be a gorgeous love story – and it certainly had its moments – but there were just too many scenes that added nothing to the storyline, and which slowed it down for me. I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t be rushing to watch it again. Despite showcasing the talents of both Grant and Dunne, this film just didn’t hit the mark for me.

Year of release: 1941

Director: George Stevens

Producers: George Stevens, Fred Guiol

Writers: Martha Cheavens, Morrie Ryskind

Main cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Edgar Buchanan, Beulah Bondi

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This is the first book in a series of seven, which are collectively known as the Murdoch Mysteries, all of which feature a Canadian Police Detective named William Murdoch, who solves crimes in the late 1800s, in Toronto.  Three of the novels were adapted into television movies, starring Peter Outerbridge as the title character, and a five season (so far) television show, with Yannick Bisson in the title role, featuring the characters from the books, but with all new storylines, has proved very successful.  The tv series is one of my favourite shows, so I was looking forward to reading the novels, and seeing where the character of William Murdoch began. 

I certainly was not disappointed.  This fascinating novel which combines crime drama and historical fiction, is quite different from the tv show – Doctor Julia Ogden does not appear in this book at all, and Inspector Brackenridge only plays a minor role, whereas both of these characters are major characters in the show.

However, I do not intend for this review to be a comparison between the show and the books, especially as both are equally enjoyable in their own right.  The story in this first Murdoch book revolves around the death of a young lady, who is found naked and frozen to death one wintery night.  As Murdoch and his colleague, Constable Crabtree investigate the murder, they find that almost everyone connected with the young girl has secrets of their own, and there seems to be no shortage of suspects for the crime.

The ending was not predictable; a few times I thought I had worked out who was responsible, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The character of Murdoch is well drawn, as is that of Constable Crabtree.  Also, the family with whom the dead girl resided were also well fleshed out.  There were no real gimmicks or twists in the story – just a very well told detective story, which showed Murdoch’s quick intelligence and dogged determination.  I also thought that life in Toronto in the late 1800s was well depicted,with the atmosophere leaping off the page.

It’s a cliche to say it, but this book really was a page turner.  I would highly recommend it to any fans of historical fiction or crime novels, and I look forward to reading the subsequent books in the series.

(Author’s website can be found here.  For more information about the television show Murdoch Mysteries, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of season 1 of the television series, Murdoch Mysteries.

Click here for my review of the second Murdoch Mysteries novel, Under the Dragon’s Tail.

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This review is for the 1996 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. I had been meaning to watch this for ages, and after seeing the stage adaptation at the RSC, it seemed like the perfect time to finally catch the film.

In this version, Toby Stephens plays Duke Orsino, whose love for Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) is unrequited. Imogen Stubbs plays Viola/Cesario, and Steven Mackintosh plays her brother Sebastian. Toby Belch is played by Mel Smith, Richard E Grant is the hapless Andrew Aguecheek, and Imelda Staunton plays Maria.

Far more is made of Viola/Cesario’s attraction to Orsino than was made in the play, and also, we do see the eventual marriage of Belch and Maria, which was not in the stage version. It is a most enjoyable film, with plenty of drama and comedy. Each cast member seemed just right for their role – stand outs for me were Toby Stephens – who is exactly the right kind of handsome and noble for this part – Helena Bonham Carter (of course), and Mel Smith, who surprised me with his acting skills. Previously I had only seen him in out and out comedies, but here he was perfect as Toby Belch. Imogen Stubbs also somehow managed to look like a gorgeous woman and still be convincing (enough for the purpose of the film) as a young man. I should also mention Ben Kingsley – an always-reliable actor – who played Feste, with an almost sinister undertone, and Nigel Hawthorne, who played the pompous Malvalio.

I don’t think it afforded me as many laughs as the stage adaptation, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this film, and would recommend it to any fans of Shakespeare, or indeed any fans of comedy in general.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Trevor Nunn

Producers: Christopher Ball, Mark Cooper, Simon Curtis, Stephen Evans, David Garrett, Bob Hayward, Ileen Maisel, David Parfitt, Greg Smith, William Tyrer, Ruth Vitale, Patrick Wachsberger, Jonathan Weisgal

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Trevor Nunn

Main cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Stephens, Mel Smith, Richard E. Grant, Imelda Staunton, Nigel Hawthorne, Imogen Stubbs, Steven Mackintosh, Ben Kingsley

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Click here for my review of the 2012 stage adaptation, at RSC, Stratford
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