TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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14 hours ago, Jlewis said:

I also thought they could be referencing the original novel. Yet that isn't something done often in movies unless the source is very famous, as in the Disney animated features based on popular fairy tales (see the book open its pages). I think our theories about it being the Civil War books makes the most sense.

It is a fascinating gimmick. Perhaps I view it as "odd" because it wasn't repeated again in other movies. It is not something I was used to.

Maybe it's more odd that other filmmakers didn't borrow Mann's gimmick/technique and use it for their transitions. Some of the transitions we see in Disney animation are cliches. I think Mann was trying to be more artistic, stylistic and individual.

He could just as easily have had her at the dress shop in a scene set in the past, then transitioning to the present by showing layers of garments being sold. Again he was employing a stylish way to jump ahead in the narrative....obviously he would not keep the camera fixed on her the whole time she read those books.

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Essential: MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE (1990)

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Merchant-Ivory's MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE is based on two classic American novellas, Mr. Bridge, and Mrs. Bridge, both written by Evan S. Connell. There was a ten year gap between the two publications, and the one on Mrs. Bridge appeared in print first.

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The books are rich with detail about the Bridge family's daily lifestyle, much of it based on Connell's own upbringing. Connell renounces his upper class background in his stories. These two volumes serve as an indictment, a scathing look at an ultra class-conscious segment of American life that Connell knew as a child.

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He examines the lifestyles and attitudes of people he grew up with in Kansas City, Missouri, starting with his parents then splintering out to include other high society types they associated with during those years. The chapters, which feel more like vignettes, are mildly satiric. He tells us these people are grand and amusing, and also that they are pathetic and worthless.

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For the screen adaptation Ruth Prawer Jhabvala does a remarkable job, utilizing the best elements of the original source material. But of course she couldn't include each incident, so the books are a must-read if the characters make an impression on you, which they did for me. Interestingly, Jhabvala's screenplay contains about 30 to 40 pages of scenes that were cut from the final film. So you can see how the material might have been a bit unwieldy and not only did Jhabvala pick and choose, but director James Ivory and his partner Ismail Merchant also chose which parts of the screenplay were most vital and faithful to the spirit of Connell's writing.

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I think what wound up in the film gives us a very good glimpse into the lives of Walter and India Bridges, and people of their ilk. In some ways, the family is under a constant state of attack. Not only because the country is heading into the second world war, but because mores are changing. So the Bridges' brand of respectability, carefully cultured and phony on so many levels, is under siege as well. How can it possibly survive?

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The Newmans, who really seem to believe in the material, play the main couple with great precision and skill. There's a shocking scene where Mr. Bridge lusts after his daughter Ruth (Kyra Sedgwick) and is interrupted by his wife. His reaction at being caught in such reverie is to pull his wife into a passionate embrace. However, Mrs. Bridge has her own problems, which he thinks is remedied with a glass of beer (she doesn't drink).

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Assorted oddball characters pop up in the country club scenes. Simon Callow has a field day as a vulgar businessman who goes through women like water. The latest one is young enough to be his daughter, which means he's living out the fantasy that Mr. Bridge keeps to himself and uses his wife to mask.

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There's also an emotionally unhinged banker's wife named Grace Barron (superbly played by Blythe Danner) who implodes. After years of embarrassing her husband because of her erratic behavior, she decides the only honorable thing to do is to free him from the wreckage of their marriage and have a heart attack by taking too many sleeping pills. Heart attack becomes code for suicide and everyone comments on Mrs. Barron's "heart attack." When Grace Barron dies, India Bridge is particularly bereft.

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Meanwhile daughter Ruth has gone off to New York to pursue her artistic ambitions. Then there's a second daughter named Caroline (Margaret Welsh) who just entered into an ill-advised marriage with a wife beater.

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We can't forget the Bridges' youngest child, son Douglas (Robert Sean Leonard). He has become increasingly distant and alienated. When Douglas joins the military and goes off to fight in the war, the Bridges have even more adjustments to make.

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While it is correct to say the film as a whole is a character study, it is really not a study about Mr. Bridge. And it is not a study about Mrs. Bridge, either, though she sometimes dominates the action a bit more than her husband does. Nor is it a treatise about children or family acquaintances. It's about the reproachable "character" of the American bourgeoisie. It's about how people cling to each other while clinging to outmoded values. Yet despite the damning tone, Connell and the filmmakers who've adapted his work, somehow manage to convey the idea that the two central characters have a constant, if not strange, love.

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It's an unforgettable film - with an unforgettable cast.

Also see - "Harry and Son", directed by Mr. Newman.

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This has always been a favorite of mine, seen a couple times. Like all favorites, I am well aware of its flaws.

No, I have not read the original stories so my comments are restricted to the cinematic take that may deviate considerably from the printed word. After reading the summary above, the stories seem more “damning” than “fondly remembered” but the movie itself comes off much softer. However I am probably watching it with the wrong eyes.

Of the three performers playing the adult children, only Margaret Welsh could pass as a descendant of Paul Newman's Walter and Joanne Woodward's India with similar hair and eye color; Kyra Sedgwick and Robert Sean Leonard both look very different. I do consider her character, Carolyn, a bit under-written and less interesting to watch than the other two despite a prominent wedding scene. No fault of the actress, but I would have preferred at least one scene featuring her with the husband she later leaves, Gil Davis (played by Marcus Giamatti). I guess her feisty earlier scene pushing off a suitor at a dance and Gil's “bull”-ing through her father's office was enough to convince us viewers that these two “type A” personalities were never meant to be.

Kyra Sedgwick seems to have the most fun in her role as the more colorful Daddy's “star” Ruth. Walter smacks her on the face for fooling around with a boyfriend in the house, but he still supports her trip to New York to become an actress. (Allowing her to leave the nest may be the best thing if he is detecting a hint of incestuous interest in his daughter.) Ruth later tells her brother that she is trying to con Daddy into supporting some socially progressive magazine that she and other Big Apple bohemians are involved in. Although we never see Walter's reaction, being that he is a proud anti-New Deal Republican not into such fiddle-faddle, we can easily assume he still adds more money to her bank account. As India tells Ruth in letters, “we may not always understand you but we still love you” (paraphrasing here).

Occasionally the smallest details in easily forgotten scenes are fascinating as character studies. Ruth tossing a comb in her basket and India making a deal about her washing it instead seems like your usual mom getting persnickety with daughter moment. Nothing spectacular. Yet there are other interesting layers here. Ruth later shows herself as hardly the type who takes care of anything, let alone herself... changing boyfriends and constantly restless for what newer and shinier objects are available on the horizon. She does not even stick to her “dream” of being a stage actress since she has far less patience reciting Shakespeare properly like her father. India, for her part, is very meticulous but also just as caring of other people as she is with easily disposable combs despite doing it in a, well, meticulous fashion that drives her three children bonkers. 

Even the silly marriage manual is passed about because India genuinely thinks it helps her kids in a way that she herself can't in regards to the birds and the bees. Yes, she is well aware of her shortcomings as a sex educator. Seeing Douglas' “party girls” album is initially shocking to her, but she is not outraged or angry at him at all. She genuinely feels that unpacking The Book for him is the best thing in case he has any trouble getting somebody “knocked up” or catching a disease. She does not even question his girlfriends even though she would prefer he date “that nice girl” instead. She just wants to make sure he is responsible in whatever he does and tries her best to allow him to live his own life. What more could a son want from his parents?

Robert Sean Leonard is very subdued in his role as Douglas, but he is extremely likable and convincing as a struggling teen who evolves into a more mature twenty something. His first prominent scene is as the annoyed 16-17 year old who hates his mother fidgeting over his Eagle Scout scarf and naturally upsets her by refusing to acknowledge her like the other guys do their mothers. When Walter discloses his “heart condition” to his son, this marks a turning point. Although he may get his parents to allow him to join the Air Corps, he is not severing his ties with them. 

My favorite scene is when India keeps hounding him to shave off his mustache after he enlists and then gets upset by saying “you are just like your father” (a.k.a. both guys are stubborn in their ways). His reply moments later: “who else would I be like, if not my father?” He actually does become his father during an attic scene earlier as he puts on an old jacket from The Great War two decades previous. 

I feel that Douglas is the one who understands his parents the best. The girls are very independent and outspoken, each getting a scene sharply criticizing either dad (Ruth) or mom (Carolyn) to their face. Maybe Douglas' earlier scene at Eagle Scouts is his counterpart parental-rejection scene to match theirs, but we see him evolve in his relationship with both parents over consecutive scenes in a way we don't with his sisters. Note too the contrast between a later bathroom scene where he is much more patient with his mother hoarding over him than he was two years earlier when she fussed over his scout scarf. 

Going outside the family, we get the familiar Merchant-Ivory & Newell “ham” Simon Callow playing shrink Dr. Alex Sauer, whom Walter and India only tolerate because he is rich enough to attend their country club. They are invited to one of his parties that includes an all-black jazz band and plenty of “relics” in his glass cases that were likely recycled as props in Bill Condon's Kinsey. He is very much the antithesis of Walter, outspoken about s-e-x while Walter considers public discussion of it as “dirty”. Then again, we are made well aware that Walter thinks about it often. I am sure Dr. Alex would have loved to have accompanied the Bridges to the Louvre. India is shown looking at “The Raft of the Medusa” by Théodore Géricault, while Walter is shown with “The Death of Sardanapalus” by Eugène Delacroix... and he would have a lot to say about what may be going on in their minds. 

Likewise, Gale Garnett's Mabel comes off on screen (maybe not in the original stories) as sort of a female counterpart to Dr. Alex trying to “liberalize” both India and her best friend Grace Barron, well played by Blythe Danner. Like Dr. Alex, Mabel is a bit too stuck in her head and basing too much of her life perspective from books. Also not too sensitive to others' feelings. When India asks about her vacation to Banff, she is clearly expecting a romantic take on the scenery but Mabel labels it nothing more than a tourist trap. Mabel also questions the “perspective” of India's paintings collected on the Paris trip without any interest in “why” India likes them. 

Poor Grace... she is never in a state of “grace”. She is never satisfied as a banker's wife and needs a dramatic escape that she may not even want if she ever gets it. At least India is happy with what she has, despite feeling frustrated at times. One key foreshadowing of later doom and gloom occurs when Grace wrecks a painting in art class despite receiving praise from the instructor. (I also should point out Austin Pendleton's bit role here, since he later reappears with a new job as a struggling magazine salesman in a very well acted scene.)

Walter, India and constantly frustrated Grace all struggle expressing their emotions with each other and even the two best friends don't always connect right (i.e. “losing my mind” scene). However we do see their emotions expressed in different ways. Walter may be stoic on the outside and accused by his secretary accordingly when she attempts to quit her job in disgust (but is back on the job in a future scene, so she must not hate him completely), but we see it in the little things he does, such as defending a young guy injured on the job (I guess... don't know the details but it appears that Walter does fight for the underdog occasionally) and also helping each child despite how rebellious they are. Unfortunately his means of expressing love is expressed too much with “things”. Perfect example: he is hyper-critical of artists in Paris who aren't “working” the way he feels they should be “working”, but still purchases India's expensive paintings because he sees how much she loves them. In one of the last scenes, Dr. Alex is still judging Walter as not terribly romantic in the flower shop on Valentine's Day, but he still gets the biggest bouquet for his wife.

With the character of Harriet the maid (Saundra McClain), we do tap a little into the racial divides of that era. Walter is comically more fussy about her nephew wanting to attend Harvard instead of a “colored” school than he is about her dates with a narcotics dealer and bailing her out of the hokey. However none of this is major theme material, since this film is not aiming to be Driving Miss DaisyThe Help or Green Book and make a statement.

They do a great job recreating the period in a myriad of other ways. I understand that the two books cover 15-20 years while the movie condenses to just 5-6 years and, like Forrest Gump, we don't get dates on screen. There are just key events in the background to guide us along, including the showing of A Star Is Born in a theater (likely spring of 1937 when Douglas is played by a younger actor), Nelson Eddy's song on the radio (October 1938), the tornado in Kansas (April 1939), the mention of the Nazis invading Poland during the Paris trip (September 1939), the RAF newsreels that Douglas and his friends watch in a theater (autumn 1940) and such songs as “Blues In The Night” (autumn 1941). Automobile enthusiasts can do their research here: https://www.imcdb.org/m100200.html

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Great comment Jlewlis. I love discussing this film. Definitely read the books, because you will get more details and insights into the characters. Such as their religious beliefs, their relationships with other neighbors and country club types, and their attitudes towards the poor. There's a good chapter/vignette in the Mrs. Bridge book where she takes the children to the local Emporium to buy gift baskets at Christmas they donate to "those less fortunate." Though they wouldn't be caught dead interacting with the people they are being generous towards. 

The books are more damning, because Connell is exposing them as people who live by a certain bourgeoisie formula, not really deviating outside the norms. As you pointed out, characters like Alex, Mabel and Grace challenge them in somewhat uncomfortable ways. Grace's husband, a banker named Virgil Barron, is a bit more fleshed out in the Mr. Bridge book. And of all their "friends," Virgil is probably the one Walter respects most, probably because Virgil's life revolves around money...the others are not as grounded in what matters, they're what Walter would call socialist crackpots. 

The secretary Julia and the maid Harriet (known as Hazel in the books and changed in the movie to get away from sitcom stereotype popularized by Shirley Booth) are basically two sides of India Bridge. One of Connell's main points about this woman, who is modeled on his own mother, is that she has no specific role in the family. She's a figurehead, not allowed to do many housekeeping chores and not allowed to help Walter with his business-- that's what Julia and Harriet are employed to do.

A key scene in the Mrs. Bridge book is when she gets to make a meal for Walter, which is depicted in the movie. However, the scene in the film shows she cannot make the dessert properly; while in the book, it's more satirical that she only knows how to make one meal (a cheesy noodle casserole) that she has prepared for years on the housekeeper's day off. She has only been allowed to develop this one skill as wife and mother. The rest of the time she is doing leisure activities, like attending an art class, reading Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, shopping at the Emporium, or getting ready to attend a social gathering with her husband. She is equally sidelined and useless with her own children, as the booklet on the marriage of the ovum and the sper-m demonstrates. 

One thing the film does a good job presenting, which you mentioned, is how the youngest child, son Douglas, evolves. He's the baby of the family, the only boy, so he's a bit more special. His "girlfriend" Paquita, from the wrong side of the tracks, is said to be a passing fancy, something he outgrows as he matures. He ends up marrying a respectable girl from an acceptable family and taking over his father's law firm. So more than the other siblings, he's the one who carries his father's practices forward and carries on the family name. The daughter Caroline is said to have divorced Gil and found a new husband, a more suitable match, thus she eventually "reforms" but we are led to believe Ruth never really does.

Jhabvala's dialogue, a lot of it transferred directly over from Connell, is memorable in this film. Like the part where Walter and India are in a Parisian hotel room and notice mirrors on the ceiling, and he says 'other times, other morals' in French. Or when they get back home and India's entertaining Mabel, Grace and the another gal playing bridge. India is just so curious to know if the pothole on Ward Parkway was ever fixed. And Grace flamboyantly says she sent a telegram off to the mayor to have it done.

Probably the best dialogue occurs in the country club scene during the tornado. Everyone else has evacuated but Walter makes India stay with him in the main dining room. As the twister is ending, he assures his wife that for years he's told her when something will happen and when it will not happen. That moment, more than any other, characterizes his overprotective brand of love, and her futile attempts to object and just go along with him.

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Yes, I liked the tornado scene too. Especially the way he makes her search for the butter in the dark.

It sounds like certain liberties were taken with the book to make it less a Connell story and more a Merchant-Ivory-ification of a Newman-Woodward star vehicle. Yet your mention of gift baskets  purchased at the Emporium fits in well with the Merchant-Ivory-ification of E.M. Forster's Howard's End. I like that one just as much as this one and they do share quite a bit in common. Lots of criticism of the rich and their attitudes towards the poor a.k.a. Anthony Hopkins' take on Henry Wilcox. Also the way "art" (or "music & meaning") is something that unifies people of different classes (like Helena Bonham Carter's Helen & Samuel West's Leonard Bast). Emma Thompson plays Margaret Schlegel as seemingly smart and talkative, but she really isn't any more sophisticated than Joanne Woodward's India and probably can't cook any better. Obviously both stories held special appeal to these producer-directors for much the same reasons.

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1 hour ago, Jlewis said:

Yes, I liked the tornado scene too. Especially the way he makes her search for the butter in the dark.

It sounds like certain liberties were taken with the book to make it less a Connell story and more a Merchant-Ivory-ification of a Newman-Woodward star vehicle. Yet your mention of gift baskets  purchased at the Emporium fits in well with the Merchant-Ivory-ification of E.M. Forster's Howard's End. I like that one just as much as this one and they do share quite a bit in common. Lots of criticism of the rich and their attitudes towards the poor a.k.a. Anthony Hopkins' take on Henry Wilcox. Also the way "art" (or "music & meaning") is something that unifies people of different classes (like Helena Bonham Carter's Helen & Samuel West's Leonard Bast). Emma Thompson plays Margaret Schlegel as seemingly smart and talkative, but she really isn't any more sophisticated than Joanne Woodward's India and probably can't cook any better. Obviously both stories held special appeal to these producer-directors for much the same reasons.

I like how you've compared MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE to HOWARDS END.

In the Mrs. Bridge book India knows how to cook, but it's just the one meal. She's never been required to develop her culinary skills beyond one main dish. Whereas in the film, I think Jhabvala, Merchant & Ivory are trying to make her seem more hopeless and ultimately more despairing. But in the book, that's how Grace Barron is defined. Connell defines India as someone who's almost too shallow to comprehend the fact she's miserable. Or that if she realizes it, she has no right to complain. Even when Caroline points out a few things, it's too much for India to ever dare consider.

Despite populating the drama with "types" that could easily come across as one-dimensional, Connell manages to present them as fully fleshed human beings...yet they remain stuck in a time warp, unable to make any substantial progress that would turn them into well-rounded human beings.

The chapter with the gift baskets indicates they are people who do things out of duty (noblesse oblige), not because they are exactly connected to the world that surrounds them in any spiritually significant way. Sort of like the Wilcoxes in Forster's novel.

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I've really appreciated and enjoyed the comments others are posting on this thread. I love reading different ideas about the classic films we watch.

*****

March Focus: Directing across genres

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Though Sirk is heralded for his glossy soap operas, he directed a variety of stories. Each week I will review a Sirk film in a different genre.

HITLER’S MADMAN (1943)...war
LURED (1947)...mystery
TAKE ME TO TOWN (1953)...western
CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT (1955)...adventure
ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955)...romance

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Just thought I'd mention HITLER'S MADMAN is on YouTube. 

I will be posting my review on Saturday.

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Essential: HITLER'S MADMAN (1943)

The background for this motion picture is quite interesting, maybe more interesting than the film itself. It's an excellent piece of anti-Nazi propaganda. It's a "B" film, turned out by personnel from poverty row studio PRC. Some of the people were top-tier filmmakers in Germany such as cinematographer Eugen Schufftan, and of course, director Douglas Sirk. So despite the low budget, it's made by very competent craftsmen.

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MGM boss Louis Mayer liked it so much that he bought it from the original financiers, when they were looking for a distributor. This delayed its release into theaters, since Mayer wanted a some scenes reshot and a few more added. And also, this meant a film made on a shoestring suddenly had its budget expanded, and the end result is something I'd call a B+ (or A-) picture. Sirk, Schufftan, and one of the original producers (Seymour Nebenzal) were Germans in exile, and they depict the Nazis in a more realistic way than other films covering the same ground. The people of Lidice, Czechoslovakia are presented realistically too-- the entire village of Lidice was wiped out by the Nazis.

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When the Nazis gained power in Eastern Europe and took over neighboring countries, they would station "protectors" over newly acquired regions. These high-ranking officials reported to Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himler. Underneath them, there were other officials and town mayors. In this case, the mayor of Lidice is a man who has turned on his people and sworn allegiance to The Fuhrer. Mayor Bauer (Ludwig Stossel) is presented as a fat buffoon who doesn't really have his people in line. And this will cause problems a short time later.

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The protectors would usually drive through the various regions under their control and if something seemed off to them, the mayor and local police would be notified. One day the protector of this region, Reinhard Heydrich (John Carradine), notices a religious assembly in Lidice. His vehicle stops, he hops out with his men, and they confront the local priest and townsfolk. Heydrich in angry, because the people do not have a permit to gather in public like this. During a quarrel with the priest, whom Heydrich is trying to provoke, the priest is shot and killed. This is the first real violence in the area. Heydrich plans to drive back through the village the next morning to see if the mayor has gotten the people back in line.

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Before Heydrich appears, life is rather idyllic. The people of Lidice may be under German control, but their way of life has not changed drastically. A resistance fighter named Karel (Alan Curtis) shows up; he's a Czech who's been working with American and British allies in England. He is reunited with his girlfriend Jarmilla (Patricia Morison), and he tries to convince her father Jan (Ralph Morgan) to resist the Nazis. It isn't until Heydrich kills the priest that Jan and the townsfolk realize they need to take a stand against the Nazi regime. The mayor's wife also sides with them, because her two sons were killed on the Russian front fighting for the Fuhrer, which upsets her terribly.

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In real life Reinhard Heydrich was ambushed along a road outside Lidice. Sirk's film depicts that, though I think he's taken dramatic license with some of it. This version has Karel's girlfriend Jarmilla ride a bike into the middle of the road to slow down Heydrich's jeep, so that Karel and Jan can get off a few good shots with their rifles.

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The real life ambush did not involve any women, and Heydrich's death occurred much quicker. The movie drags it out for maximum dramatic effect. Before Heydrich dies, we see Karel run off with Jarmilla; then Jarmilla is shot and killed by Nazi soldiers in the woods. After their love story concludes, we have a lengthy death scene for Heydrich.

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Just before Heydrich finally goes to that big swastika in the sky, Himler arrives to see him. The movie fails to include an interesting fact about Heydrich's death, such as how he refused to let local Czech doctors treat his injuries, since he felt they were inferior to German doctors. After Heydrich dies, the last ten minutes are devoted to a bloody reprisal against the village of Lidice. During a comical phone call with Hitler, Himler decides to avenge Heydrich's murder by destroying the entire village.

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The atrocities committed against the people of Lidice are staggering. Although HITLER'S MADMAN was produced during the production code era, the firing squad scenes are rather graphic. Probably because the film had been originally made at PRC. If the story had started at MGM with an American director, my guess is it would have been much tamer, more sanitized. The scenes of mass death, and the fires that level the village are expertly staged, and the movie ends on a very somber note. However, the final sequence is also presented as something meant to inspire audiences. Where moviegoers should want to carry on and fight the Nazis on behalf of those who were slaughtered that day, the 10th of June 1942, in Lidice.

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A few things crossed my mind when I watched HITLER'S MADMAN. First, I don't think the Nazis and their underlings were ever really buffoons. I'd say they were very brutal, very calculating. Their eradicating a village was an extreme act that was in every way imaginable, a deliberate (and in their minds, justifiable) measure.

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Second, Sirk had actually met Heydrich once in the early 1930s, so it's interesting that he ended up becoming a "biographer" of Heydrich through the art of motion pictures; one German denouncing another. Third, the event occurred early during America's involvement in the war. Americans entered the war in December 1941. The massacre of Lidice took place just six months later, and there would be another three years before Hitler and Himler were brought down. Fourth, it's a powerful film that must have been very shocking for audiences, particularly the final sequence. It's powerful and shocking to watch now, all these years later.

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Fifth, I think there is still a lot of radical militant behavior occurring in the world today, some of it in our own country; so this movie and the legacy of Lidice is just as relevant as ever. And finally, I think this is a movie you have to watch with all other distractions drowned out. It's something where you have to embrace the propaganda, yet put it into perspective, but also realize the deeper message about the value of human life. The Nazis wanted to remove all traces of Lidice. But Sirk's film helps Lidice live. And if you watch HITLER'S MADMAN and absorb its message, you will be helping Lidice live.

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HITLER'S MADMAN may currently be viewed on YouTube, and it airs occasionally on TCM.

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Nice write-up, TopBilled. I see the auto-censor still tags H_immler's name, which is very silly.

I watched Hitler's Madman in the last year or two, and felt much the same way you did about it. It's interesting to contrast this with the other films about the same event, such as Hangmen Also Die!, directed by Fritz Lang and also from 1943, and Anthropoid (2016), an international production that sticks the closest to actual events, as far as I know. There's also The Man with the Iron Heart (2017), but I haven't seen that one yet.

220px-Hangmen_Also_Die_1943_poster.jpg  Anthropoid_(film).png  Hhhh_poster.jpg

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13 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

Nice write-up, TopBilled. I see the auto-censor still tags H_immler's name, which is very silly.

I watched Hitler's Madman in the last year or two, and felt much the same way you did about it. It's interesting to contrast this with the other films about the same event, such as Hangmen Also Die!, directed by Fritz Lang and also from 1943, and Anthropoid (2016), an international production that sticks the closest to actual events, as far as I know. There's also The Man with the Iron Heart (2017), but I haven't seen that one yet.

220px-Hangmen_Also_Die_1943_poster.jpg  Anthropoid_(film).png  Hhhh_poster.jpg

Thanks Larry. Because of the auto-censor I had to incorrectly spell his name as Himler with only one "m" instead of two.

It's been awhile since I've seen the Lang film (HANGMEN ALSO DIE) but I think it has inaccuracies, since they rushed it into production and certain facts about the Lydice massacre had not yet been verified. HITLER'S MADMAN was able to be more accurate, since Mayer had extended the production period and had delayed its release. Part of the delay was because Mayer didn't want to compete with United Artists releasing Lang's film, so they waited for HANGMEN ALSO DIE to finish its run in theaters. Meanwhile Mayer added those other scenes he wanted to include.

Interestingly, these films were given the green light, before many people in the U.S. had even been made aware of what happened in Lydice. That's because the Nazis had suppressed a lot of information about the massacre. But these exiled filmmakers, of course, knew what was going on over there. As I said, Sirk had even known Heydrich when he was younger.

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On Saturday, I will post my review for

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.29.15 AM.jpeg

This film may currently be found on YouTube. It airs occasionally on TCM.

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Essential: LURED (1947)

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.29.15 AM.jpeg

By the time Douglas Sirk directed this picture, he'd already established himself as someone who could turn out hits in Hollywood. HITLER'S MADMAN had been a critical and commercial success; and though it did not lead to a contract at MGM, Sirk's services were still in demand. Sirk would continue to make independent pictures in the mid-1940s for producers who released their efforts through United Artists. Several of these films starred George Sanders on loan from Fox. LURED was the third time the actor and director collaborated, and they would team up once more a decade later.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.35.07 AM.jpeg

LURED marked the first (and only) time Sirk or Sanders ever worked with Lucille Ball. Though she seems an unlikely casting, Ball fits the story quite well. The actress had just been released from her MGM contract and was now working as a freelancer. Here she plays a dancer that helps a Scotland Yard inspector (Charles Coburn) lure a Jack the Ripper-type killer out into the open. She's the bait, so to speak.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.28.57 AM.jpeg

Ball's character, Sandra Carpenter, moonlights as a lady detective. Part of the job means answering ads in a personal column that are written to flush out the killer. She soon attracts the attention of a suave gentleman named Robert Fleming (Sanders). He's a London-based theatrical producer and may be the guy they're after.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-10-07%2Bat%2B3.25.3

LURED is a remake of a French film called PIEGES which was directed by Robert Siodmak in 1939. Maurice Chevalier had the lead role in the earlier version, and Marie Dea played the bait. Dea's character had the same last name, but her first name was Adrienne, changed to Sandra in the remake. Sandra is said to be an American girl who came to London to do a musical show that folded. She stayed and found a job as a taxi dancer. One of her friends is the latest murder victim. So that's what causes Sandra to help the police.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.24.12 AM.jpeg

Sirk moves the setting to London in order to recreate some of the gothic atmosphere associated with the Ripper case. Moving it to London also allows the director to cast some well-known British character actors in supporting roles. People like Boris Karloff, George Zucco, Cedric Hardwick and Alan Mowbray. Three of them play crooks. Although Sanders' character calls himself a cad, he's not a crook or a villain. In fact he's quite vulnerable and romantic in his scenes. A love story develops between Robert and Sandra, and this pairing assures the audience there will be the requisite happy ending.

screen-shot-2019-03-05-at-11.24.25-am.jpg

While the tone remains somewhat comedic, thanks to Ball's snappy line deliveries and Sanders' sarcastic quips, the storyline is somewhat grim. Sirk and his cinematographer, William H. Daniels, make it a point to enshroud the characters in shadows when the suspense is supposed to build. At nearly every turn viewers are reminded that this is a mystery with a killer on the loose. But his true identity is kept a secret until the very end.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.28.15 AM.jpeg

Any one of the crooks that Sandra deals with could be a murderer, because they all have strange almost psychotic tendencies. Karoff is a mad artist, Hardwicke has a possessive attachment to others, and Mowbray's involved in a smuggling operation where several pretty females have gone missing. While we surmise fairly early that Robert can't be the killer, it's interesting to see Sandra fall in love with him, yet not be entirely sure of his innocence.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.31.29 AM.jpeg

I think part of what makes this film work is the way it's told mostly from the woman's point of view. Coburn's inspector and Zucco's copper are there to assist Ball, but she's the one who takes the risks and becomes embroiled in dangerous situations. The various subplots reveal insights about Sandra, and ultimately about Robert. After all she is luring a killer AND Robert into her trap.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.27.03 AM.jpeg

A recurring theme in Sirk's films, which becomes more prevalent in his later output at Universal, is entrapment. There's a feeling that Sandra is trapping Robert, even when she seems to reject him; and even when she is still focused on nabbing the man who murdered her best friend. The glamorous costumes she wears, and the elaborately designed sets where Sandra and Robert meet, give us a glimpse of bourgeoisie life. But the delicate elegance of this world is forever in danger of being snuffed out by a madman.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.30.45 AM.jpeg

LURED may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Essential: TAKE ME TO TOWN (1953)

At this point in his Hollywood career, Douglas Sirk had moved from artistic-minded independent productions to routine genre assignments at Universal. Sirk would remain with the studio through the end of the decade, scoring some of his biggest hits.  Universal provided Sirk with better budgets as well as the chance to collaborate with more "A" list stars.

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TAKE ME TO TOWN is a western comedy that Sirk made as part of a trilogy for Universal. The other two films were MEET ME AT THE FAIR, starring Dan Dailey; and HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL?, with Rock Hudson. These pictures were filmed in vivid Technicolor, and they were nostalgic diversions about America at the turn of the century. TAKE ME TOWN differs from the previous two, since it does not have an urban setting. It's interesting to see a German-born filmmaker do so well with movies celebrating the American way of life,. Of course, Sirk would take some of these ideals and subvert them in his later melodramas.

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TAKE ME TOWN stars Ann Sheridan and Sterling Hayden. There are some lovable kids and an assortment of character actors in supporting roles who are all quite memorable. Sheridan performs a lively musical number in the beginning that is aided considerably by cinematographer Russell Metty's use of Technicolor. In fact the whole picture bursts with energy, even in some of the more pedestrian scenes where not much seems to be occurring.

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The storyline works on two levels. First, there's an adult angle with Sheridan as a "naughty" saloon gal. She's running from the law in much the same way Betty Grable was on the lam in THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND. Only Sheridan's character was in the wrong place at the wrong time when her previous place of employment had been raided. She escapes from a marshal and legs it to a sleepy logging town. When she gets to Timberline she makes friends with the owner of an "opera house" (code for brothel) and quickly gains employment. She does a nightly floor show to warm up the customers, and let's just say no opera music is ever heard.

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While performing "opera," she changes her name to Vermillion O'Toole (so named because of her bright red hair). Despite these seedier elements, the storyline works on a wholesome level, too. A family angle occurs when Vermillion develops a soft spot for the three young sons of a widowed preacher (Hayden).

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The boys leave home one day when pa goes off logging. They've heard that a snooty society woman intends to become their new ma, and this simply won't do. So they head into town to find someone more suitable to join the family.  You guessed it. They quickly spot Vermillion when they sneak into the "opera house." They try to convince her that she should become their new ma, since she's just so darn pretty and pa would certainly like her!

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At first Vermillion is unwilling to leave with the boys, despite bonding instantly with them. But when the marshal (Larry Gates) arrives, hot on her trail, she decides maybe going off to the country and playing mother might not be such a bad alternative. Of course when preacher Will Hall learns there's a strange woman at his house with the boys, he says she will have to leave first thing in the morning. This isn't proper.

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In the meantime, Will enjoys her cooking and realizes that his kids have really taken a shine to Vermillion. And the following day, when Vermillion saves the youngest one from being mauled by a bear, Will takes a shine to Vermillion, too. She's obviously not going anywhere. Her days of singing "opera" are over, and she is going to become a proper ma to Corney, Petey and Bucket.

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The story will have a happy ending. Vermillion will become domesticated, and at some point, the audience knows she will be cleared of any wrongdoing. But what makes the story work so well is the chemistry Sheridan has with Hayden, and the rapport they develop with the boys. Also, there are a few engaging subplots.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 11.05.53 AM.jpeg

In one situation the marshal undergoes a transformation, deciding that life is not necessarily black and white, and there are gray areas. Plus we have the townsfolk, particularly a ladies aid group led by the snooty society woman, who dial down their prejudices and allow Vermillion a chance to prove herself. She does this during a special outdoor festival, where they stage a show with melodrama and musical interludes, to raise funds for the construction of a new church.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 11.50.51 AM.jpeg

Ann Sheridan seems to excel at playing maternal roles, something she didn't have a chance to do during her years at Warner Brothers. In some ways, this film reminds me of Republic's drama COME NEXT SPRING, where she again played a rural mother who put her kids first. Sterling Hayden also seems to excel at this material. It's nice to see him do lighter scenes and prove he could ably take on a paternal role. He seems very relaxed and smiles a lot on camera, which goes against the persona he developed for himself in his other films. They all seem to be having a good time making this movie. Perhaps that can be attributed to Sirk's smooth direction and Sirk's ability to put actors at ease and elicit more natural performances.

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It should also be pointed out that TAKE ME TO TOWN was the first motion picture Ross Hunter produced on his own. He'd been associate producing, directing dialogue and acting prior to this. It was Ann Sheridan who encouraged him to take on increased responsibility behind the scenes. They'd previously done two other films together. Of course, Sirk and Hunter would go on to make less nostalgic films at Universal. But you can see how TAKE ME TOWN was the beginning of all that.

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 11.47.34 AM.jpeg

TAKE ME TO TOWN may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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I am vaguely familiar with all of these titles to some degree but have yet to see any of them.

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9 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

I am vaguely familiar with all of these titles to some degree but have yet to see any of them.

All five of the Sirk films I'm reviewing this month are on YouTube.

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Wonderful YouTube has given us an abundance of riches with so many favorites entering public domain.

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On 3/9/2019 at 2:10 PM, TopBilled said:

Essential: LURED (1947)

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.29.15 AM.jpeg

By the time Douglas Sirk directed this picture, he'd already established himself as someone who could turn out hits in Hollywood. HITLER'S MADMAN had been a critical and commercial success; and though it did not lead to a contract at MGM, Sirk's services were still in demand. Sirk would continue to make independent pictures in the mid-1940s for producers who released their efforts through United Artists. Several of these films starred George Sanders on loan from Fox. LURED was the third time the actor and director collaborated, and they would team up once more a decade later.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.35.07 AM.jpeg

LURED marked the first (and only) time Sirk or Sanders ever worked with Lucille Ball. Though she seems an unlikely casting, Ball fits the story quite well. The actress had just been released from her MGM contract and was now working as a freelancer. Here she plays a dancer that helps a Scotland Yard inspector (Charles Coburn) lure a Jack the Ripper-type killer out into the open. She's the bait, so to speak.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.28.57 AM.jpeg

Ball's character, Sandra Carpenter, moonlights as a lady detective. Part of the job means answering ads in a personal column that are written to flush out the killer. She soon attracts the attention of a suave gentleman named Robert Fleming (Sanders). He's a London-based theatrical producer and may be the guy they're after.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-10-07%2Bat%2B3.25.3

LURED is a remake of a French film called PIEGES which was directed by Robert Siodmak in 1939. Maurice Chevalier had the lead role in the earlier version, and Marie Dea played the bait. Dea's character had the same last name, but her first name was Adrienne, changed to Sandra in the remake. Sandra is said to be an American girl who came to London to do a musical show that folded. She stayed and found a job as a taxi dancer. One of her friends is the latest murder victim. So that's what causes Sandra to help the police.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.24.12 AM.jpeg

Sirk moves the setting to London in order to recreate some of the gothic atmosphere associated with the Ripper case. Moving it to London also allows the director to cast some well-known British character actors in supporting roles. People like Boris Karloff, George Zucco, Cedric Hardwick and Alan Mowbray. Three of them play crooks. Although Sanders' character calls himself a cad, he's not a crook or a villain. In fact he's quite vulnerable and romantic in his scenes. A love story develops between Robert and Sandra, and this pairing assures the audience there will be the requisite happy ending.

screen-shot-2019-03-05-at-11.24.25-am.jpg

While the tone remains somewhat comedic, thanks to Ball's snappy line deliveries and Sanders' sarcastic quips, the storyline is somewhat grim. Sirk and his cinematographer, William H. Daniels, make it a point to enshroud the characters in shadows when the suspense is supposed to build. At nearly every turn viewers are reminded that this is a mystery with a killer on the loose. But his true identity is kept a secret until the very end.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.28.15 AM.jpeg

Any one of the crooks that Sandra deals with could be a murderer, because they all have strange almost psychotic tendencies. Karoff is a mad artist, Hardwicke has a possessive attachment to others, and Mowbray's involved in a smuggling operation where several pretty females have gone missing. While we surmise fairly early that Robert can't be the killer, it's interesting to see Sandra fall in love with him, yet not be entirely sure of his innocence.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.31.29 AM.jpeg

I think part of what makes this film work is the way it's told mostly from the woman's point of view. Coburn's inspector and Zucco's copper are there to assist Ball, but she's the one who takes the risks and becomes embroiled in dangerous situations. The various subplots reveal insights about Sandra, and ultimately about Robert. After all she is luring a killer AND Robert into her trap.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.27.03 AM.jpeg

A recurring theme in Sirk's films, which becomes more prevalent in his later output at Universal, is entrapment. There's a feeling that Sandra is trapping Robert, even when she seems to reject him; and even when she is still focused on nabbing the man who murdered her best friend. The glamorous costumes she wears, and the elaborately designed sets where Sandra and Robert meet, give us a glimpse of bourgeoisie life. But the delicate elegance of this world is forever in danger of being snuffed out by a madman.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 11.30.45 AM.jpeg

LURED may currently be viewed on YouTube.

I think Lured was featured in Noir Alley not that long ago. That's when I saw it. Eddie Mueller praised the film.  Lucille Ball indeed was very good, but I could also picture Ann Sothern in the role. In the third act, the identity of the killer becomes fairly obvious; the cat and mouse game is still quite enjoyable. The cinematography was great, and as you point out, TopBilled, the London setting added to the atmosphere.

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2 minutes ago, cinemaspeak59 said:

I think Lured was featured in Noir Alley not that long ago. That's when I saw it. Eddie Mueller praised the film.  Lucille Ball indeed was very good, but I could also picture Ann Sothern in the role. In the third act, the identity of the killer becomes fairly obvious; the cat and mouse game is still quite enjoyable. The cinematography was great, and as you point out, TopBilled, the London setting added to the atmosphere.

Thanks. Yes, Sothern would have worked just as well in this picture. Though she was overly identified with the Maisie Ravier character at this time.

I think the primary reason for switching the setting from Paris to London was so they could play up the Jack the Ripper aspects of the story.

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Essential: CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT (1955)

screen-shot-2019-03-19-at-7.04.53-pm.jpeg

Universal went to Ireland to produce this picture. None of it was filmed in Hollywood, and the scenery is must-see. While the leads were Americans, the supporting cast was entirely comprised of top Irish actors. So the performances are particularly authentic. Even Rock Hudson, an Irish-American, does a convincing job playing the title character-- a rogue highwayman in the early 1800s.

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This wasn't the first time Hudson had worked with director Douglas Sirk, and it certainly wouldn't be their last collaboration. By the mid-50s the handsome actor had become a household name, thanks to his appearance in Sirk's remake of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. As a result, he is extremely confident and every bit the star. Barbara Rush is on hand as his leading lady, and she exudes great confidence in her scenes, too. Like Hudson, she did several films with Sirk.

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The beginning of the story tells us that Ireland in the early 19th century is a place "bitter with resistance against foreign rule." In this case, foreign rule is English rule. But while the story might expectedly lapse into political drama, Sirk and screenwriter Oscar Brodney wisely keep the narrative focused on action, romance and the struggle of people to maintain their own identity. In that regard, the material is similar to Sirk's earlier effort, HITLER'S MADMAN. However, this is not so much a tale of oppression, but a tale of overcoming adversity.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 7.23.14 PM.jpeg

Hudson's character Michael Martin (a.k.a. Lightfoot) is presented somewhat amiably. In fact, he's rather foppish at times, making foolish mistakes. As a result there is comedy and lightness mixed in with the dark deeds of rebellion. Lightfoot and his pal Thunderbolt (Jeff Morrow) belong to a secret society intent on overthrowing outside rule. Together they commit crimes, mostly robbing from the rich, to finance the resistance efforts of the downtrodden. And while they might be bad men, they're not evil men. The more vulnerable aspects of Lightfoot's character are shown when he falls in love with Thunderbolt's daughter (Rush).

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 7.06.41 PM.jpeg

It's obvious the studio spent a lot of money making this film, and it's a very entertaining romp. In some ways, it reminds me of family entertainment that Disney's live-action unit made during this time. The characters are larger than life, and their glorious adventures are fun in a most endearing way. It's a rousing spectacle.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 7.18.01 PM.jpeg

CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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'Lightfoot' and 'Thunderbolt'? Oh now come on! This just can't be...

 

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