TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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I like both the live action and animation sequences too. Bottom line: it does not matter what WE think regarding this film. What matters is what Disney the Corporation thinks. They stubbornly refuse to re-release it or put it out for home viewing, although you can find bootleg copies online. In contrast, Warner, Sony, Fox and other companies are far more generous with their film libraries because they believe that parents only need a certain warning on the pill bottle before dolling anything out to the kiddies. Granted, Warner still has not released all of the MGM Tom & Jerry cartoons for similar reasons, but they still have been more generous than Disney. I mentioned Melody Time above. Instead of just adding a warning on the DVD, the cigarettes Pecos Bill was puffing were digitally removed by computer and his facial expressions look downright peculiar as a result.

You mention D.W. Griffith's infamous piece, but an interesting essentials month could cover the features he made to counter all of the outrage he received for that film. Broken Blossums was one noteworthy example, even if Richard Barthelmess hardly looked Chinese. Far more intriguing is The Greatest Thing In Life which is now lost... perhaps because too many who saw it were outraged over a black and a white soldier expressing so much affection?

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Essential: SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946)

The first time I watched this film was in 2015. It had been on my to-see list for a long time, but by the mid-2010s it was almost impossible to locate. How did I obtain a copy? I moved to Wisconsin for a year and one day while looking up titles at the local library, I discovered SONG OF THE SOUTH was available in the La Crosse County library system. I could request it from a nearby branch. It took two months to get it, because of all the people on the list ahead of me requesting it.

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This was no bootleg copy. It was a disc manufactured by Disney. On the back of the DVD case, I noticed it had been printed and distributed in Australia under a division of Disney based in London. The disc had bonus features which helped me understand some of the film's screening history. It was originally released in 1946 and advertised on radio and in newspapers. It eventually aired on television in the early 1970s as part of The Wonderful World of Disney. Then, as evidenced by a trailer included on the disc, it was re-released to theaters in 1986 throughout the United States.

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I was expecting the film to be offensive and cringe-worthy. But its basic story is laid out in a heart-warming way. More importantly, SONG OF THE SOUTH seems progressive for a motion picture produced in 1946. The black and white children get along. The white boy played by Bobby Driscoll looks up to Uncle Remus (James Baskett) and Aunt Tempy (Hattie McDaniel). 

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The animated sequences are lovely. Though the live-action parts of the film are what I enjoed most. There's a lot of meaning in the scenes between the boy and his family. To me, that's where the film is strongest. Not the animation, not the music, but the basic story about the boy himself. And it's probably what appealed most to Disney, why he chose to make it.

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To some viewers, the Uncle Remus character may not seem like a negative stereotype at all. He entertains the children with his delightful stories, and he helps Driscoll's character deal with having an absent father. When the boy is injured, it is the plantation-owning grandmother (Lucile Watson) who brings Remus inside the house to see her grandson. She seems to think very highly of this man. She sees him as much more than an ex-slave. If she can look past the limitations of her close-minded society, then why can't others?

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As for Uncle Remus...we might ask why he stayed in the South after the Civil War. There are many possible reasons for this. First, some blacks that fled to the north came back after the war. It's where their families lived. And second, about 11% of the black population in the south were already free. That's right, not every black person had been enslaved.

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As for the ex-slaves that had been granted their freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation, some of these people were given land by their former owners so they continued to live and work near the plantation. Even if they had wanted to leave and move to the north, several northern states still restricted the admission of freed slaves (in two states this was written into the constitution). So to assume that all blacks migrated to the north and stayed in the north after the war is erroneous.

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Therefore without sounding too much like a history lesson, it's logical that some folks like Uncle Remus and Aunt Tempy remained in the south and continued to carry out the work which they had done before and during the war. There might have been more economic incentive and security for them to stay.  If they went to northern cities, they were not guaranteed jobs. But they could still farm in the south. And as we see in Disney's film, there was also a bond that had been formed between the families, which kept some of them rooted in the south.

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Maybe SONG OF THE SOUTH would seem less offensive now if there had there been a progressive black character who was critical of the goings on and questioned Remus and Tempy's "happiness." Or Driscoll's character could have wondered out loud "why do you continue to be here with my grandmother and our family?" But what answer would Remus have given on screen in 1946? SONG OF THE SOUTH is not a version of the Stockholm Syndrome. It's about a meaningful connection that occurs between people of different backgrounds who live in the same place.

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When in Georgia, there are four small pit-stops that every movie buff or pop culture enthusiast should visit, just so that one can say “I was there”. You just might make it to all four in one day since they aren't too far from each other, provided you don't get stuck in Atlanta traffic. Maybe you should see them in the following order?

The Historic Uncle Remus Museum is located in Eatonton just off 441. It is dedicated to that small town's most famous son, Joel Chandler Harris. http://www.uncleremusmuseum.org/

Perhaps Eatonton's most famous daughter is the still living Alice Walker, who published The Color Purple in 1982. Pity Spielberg didn't film it in Georgia three years later and had to settle with coloring the ground in both California and North Carolina to match the red clay you see everywhere here. In any case, there is a driving tour: https://www.exploregeorgia.org/eatonton/arts-culture/cultural-trails-tours/alice-walker-driving-tour

From Eatonton, you hop on 16 and go southwest for 43 minutes and stop at Juliette, located near a train track. At first glance, this is just a very rural community with just one main street. This is where Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed. The Whistle Stop Café building was built in 1927 and operated as a general store until 1972, then was leased to various businesses until the movie crew rolled in the spring of 1991. The man who had inherited the place decided to make it into a real cafe, serving... what else? https://www.exploregeorgia.org/blog/fried-green-tomatoes-a-splash-of-hollywood-in-juliette

An hour northwest will take you to Atlanta. In Midtown on Crescent Ave is the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote some trashy novel about the Civil War that briefly outsold the Bible in the 1930s. This place is just a house but there are plenty of relics on display, including some left over from a certain David O' Selznick production that was shot in Culver City, California back in 1938-39 and involved the burning of King Kong's gate. https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/explore/destinations/margaret-mitchell-house

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Essential: THE SEARCHING WIND (1946)

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.14.38 PM.jpeg

This is a Hal Wallis production, and for those who know his films-- they tend to be meticulously crafted affairs (which usually works in the viewer's favor). This picture has an incredible budget, and it features extravagant sets and backdrops. Wallis and director William Dieterle are in no hurry to start the story. They want us to soak up the atmosphere and tease us about the tale to follow. While everything is lavishly staged and intriguing up front, it's like going to a concert to see a great orchestra perform and you get an elongated overture while the curtain still remains drawn. You want them to pull the curtain back so everything can get underway. That's how THE SEARCHING WIND feels in the beginning.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.12.15 PM.jpeg

Characters refer to the past-- and you just know a large flashback is going to follow, which it eventually does. But this is delayed in order to establish Wallis' new discovery, Douglas Dick. He plays Sam Hazen the young son of the lead characters. Sam's situation is revealed in modern-day scenes that take place after the war-- he came home a cripple; and he is withdrawn and angry. Wallis and Dieterle want us to become familiar with Douglas Dick and the character of Sam. This pushes the film's running time to almost two hours, when it could easily have been told in a more succinct ninety minutes.

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Once the preamble is out of the way, and the flashback occurs-- we get an interesting story about Sam's father Alex (Robert Young), an American diplomat who lives in Europe at the onset of the war with Sam's mother Emily (Ann Richards). Because of an isolationist point of view, Alex turns a blind eye to the encroaching fascism in Italy and other neighboring countries. Alex is meant to represent American views, so the U.S. is regarded as silently supporting fascist politics due to Alex's unwillingness to take a stand against this.

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THE SEARCHING WIND is based on Lillian Hellman's award-winning stage play of the same name, and she wrote the screenplay. In her story, Hellman is drawing attention to the ignorance of the bourgeoisie. But do not assume she's writing only about war and government politics. She is also presenting a woman's melodrama. Early on we see that Emily Hazen is an artificial sort of wife whose main goal is to rub elbows with royalty and important heads of state to promote her husband's career. And while she's doing that, Alex is distracted by another woman named Cassie Bowman (Sylvia Sidney). 

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Cassie is a political correspondent, and she just so happens to be Alex's long-lost love. They were once engaged to be married, but Cassie's career took priority. As a result, Alex decided to move on and marry Emily. A short time later they had Sam. But despite having a trophy wife and an ideal son, Alex has never gotten over his feelings for Cassie. And of course, Cassie hasn't gotten over her feelings for him either.

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The romantic triangle between these three takes center stage while various atrocities and betrayals occur in the background. Eventually Cassie comes to reject Alex, because as a journalist, her investigations have led her to realize his complicity in the on-going horrors of war in Europe. Her rejection of Alex at the end sends him back into the arms of his wife, an individual who is much like himself.

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Meanwhile, Alex learns a horrible truth about his son's injuries in battle and how he may have been responsible. Hellman brings it all full-circle, and the pay-off is dramatically satisfying. But of course, Wallis and Dieterle have paced it so leisurely, especially the early scenes, that a tighter more economic brand of storytelling is out of the question.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-06-04%2Bat%2B1.38.2

There is another important character we meet during the course of Hellman's story, and that is Moses (Dudley Digges, in his last screen role). Moses is a retired newspaper owner whose company employs Cassie. Complicating matters and increasing the soap opera value, it is revealed that Moses is Emily's father. Moses is not quite comic relief, but he does bring an airy lightness to an otherwise somber motion picture, and his moments on camera are usually quite entertaining. Moses is a bit more human than Alex and Emily, providing emotional support to Sam when Sam returns from battle as a cripple. Moses' concern for his grandson causes Alex to redirect his focus and help Sam, too.

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When THE SEARCHING WIND concludes you realize something. Not all films provide immediate gratification. Some of them take longer to play out on screen, and they might make viewers work a little harder. But if the audience's thought process has gone in a slightly more profound direction-- like Cassie Bowman's does-- then perhaps it's all been worth it.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.48.31 PM.jpeg

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Backtracking to our earlier discussions about Song Of The South and whether or not it deserves to be a European and Japanese only DVD release. I recently stumbled on one of those WatchMojo.com videos on YouTube. I am not bothering to link it here, but it is easy to find with the title: "Top 10 Politically Incorrect Movies". Of course, those words don't make a whole lot of sense because only two or three of the titles have anything "political" to say, being focused more on racial and cultural differences between people rather than whom people vote for in an election.

Predictably this movie made the cut at #5. Even more predictably, Birth Of A Nation topped the list. Yet these two had plenty of interesting company, such as Lars von Trier's The Idiots, 007 in You Only Live Twice, Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat and two from those infamous rebels, Trey Parker and Matt Stone: South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut and Team America: World Police. Although they did not make the cut, key scenes of The Jazz Singer and Breakfast At Tiffany's were included.

Another interesting inclusion is Soul Man, which I saw on VHS back in the eighties as a rental and, while I didn't think it was a particularly good film, I did understand its intentions even if WatchMojo didn't quite get it. It resembled, in part, an earlier Eddie Murphy sketch on SNL and has inspiration going even further back to John Howard Griffin's pre-civil rights Black Like Me, which I had read before seeing it. WatchMojo is focused on the whole "black face" set up here and questions why such a thing was appearing in the "supposedly enlightened" eighties. (Without getting off topic, I should emphasize that "supposedly" is a key word here, because I hardly consider that decade as "enlightened" as today, not that we are all that even today.) However the film had some interesting things to say along the lines of "you don't know how others experience life unless you walk in their shoes".

I was squirming a little with James Baskett's emphasized line of "Well, honey, yew shaw got yerself in uh peck'o'trouble". No, the words are not offensive on the surface and, yes, many rural folk did talk like that. Yet think of yourself hearing them years before Sidney Poitier appeared on screen and your skin tone matching his. Plus you were likely sitting in a segregated back balcony of a Georgia theater. Yes, even in a dark theater, you had to know your "place".

This also explains why there was so much trouble with Amos & Andy when it transitioned from a long running radio show (starting in 1926 as Sam 'n' Henry) to CBS television in 1951-53. It was no more questionable than Sanford & Son (and syndicated stations continued to carry it without hassle through much of the sixties even if CBS didn't), but Sanford & Son was broadcast in an era when you had Bill Cosby, the Jackson 5, The Jeffersons and Flip Wilson available as alternatives. There were far fewer alternatives available earlier. I have also heard an argument made in A&A's radio era defense that Lum & Abner was no different in its use of hick slang talk but Lum & Abner were neither the only Caucasians nor the only Arkansas citizens on radio in the 1940s.

Ultimately time is a key factor in determining how to judge such things. What is considered offensive in one era may not be in a later time period and vice versa. As a child, I did not understand the "problem" with Song Of The South. I just enjoyed the funny animal characters, but struggled a lot reading the Golden Book adaptations because of the grammar situation. I often wonder if today's children would notice the same since they are no longer dominated by so many stereotypes on a regular basis as children were generations ago.

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23 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Essential: THE SEARCHING WIND (1946)

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.14.38 PM.jpeg

This is a Hal Wallis production, and for those who know his films-- they tend to be meticulously crafted affairs (which usually works in the viewer's favor). This picture has an incredible budget, and it features extravagant sets and backdrops. Wallis and director William Dieterle are in no hurry to start the story. They want us to soak up the atmosphere and tease us about the tale to follow. While everything is lavishly staged and intriguing up front, it's like going to a concert to see a great orchestra perform and you get an elongated overture while the curtain still remains drawn. You want them to pull the curtain back so everything can get underway. That's how THE SEARCHING WIND feels in the beginning.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.12.15 PM.jpeg

Characters refer to the past-- and you just know a large flashback is going to follow, which it eventually does. But this is delayed in order to establish Wallis' new discovery, Douglas Dick. He plays Sam Hazen the young son of the lead characters. Sam's situation is revealed in modern-day scenes that take place after the war-- he came home a cripple; and he is withdrawn and angry. Wallis and Dieterle want us to become familiar with Douglas Dick and the character of Sam. This pushes the film's running time to almost two hours, when it could easily have been told in a more succinct ninety minutes.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.30.39 PM.jpeg

Once the preamble is out of the way, and the flashback occurs-- we get an interesting story about Sam's father Alex (Robert Young), an American diplomat who lives in Europe at the onset of the war with Sam's mother Emily (Ann Richards). Because of an isolationist point of view, Alex turns a blind eye to the encroaching fascism in Italy and other neighboring countries. Alex is meant to represent American views, so the U.S. is regarded as silently supporting fascist politics due to Alex's unwillingness to take a stand against this.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.32.23 PM.jpeg

THE SEARCHING WIND is based on Lillian Hellman's award-winning stage play of the same name, and she wrote the screenplay. In her story, Hellman is drawing attention to the ignorance of the bourgeoisie. But do not assume she's writing only about war and government politics. She is also presenting a woman's melodrama. Early on we see that Emily Hazen is an artificial sort of wife whose main goal is to rub elbows with royalty and important heads of state to promote her husband's career. And while she's doing that, Alex is distracted by another woman named Cassie Bowman (Sylvia Sidney). 

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.38.17 PM.jpeg

Cassie is a political correspondent, and she just so happens to be Alex's long-lost love. They were once engaged to be married, but Cassie's career took priority. As a result, Alex decided to move on and marry Emily. A short time later they had Sam. But despite having a trophy wife and an ideal son, Alex has never gotten over his feelings for Cassie. And of course, Cassie hasn't gotten over her feelings for him either.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.24.10 PM.jpeg

The romantic triangle between these three takes center stage while various atrocities and betrayals occur in the background. Eventually Cassie comes to reject Alex, because as a journalist, her investigations have led her to realize his complicity in the on-going horrors of war in Europe. Her rejection of Alex at the end sends him back into the arms of his wife, an individual who is much like himself.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.27.14 PM.jpeg

Meanwhile, Alex learns a horrible truth about his son's injuries in battle and how he may have been responsible. Hellman brings it all full-circle, and the pay-off is dramatically satisfying. But of course, Wallis and Dieterle have paced it so leisurely, especially the early scenes, that a tighter more economic brand of storytelling is out of the question.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-06-04%2Bat%2B1.38.2

There is another important character we meet during the course of Hellman's story, and that is Moses (Dudley Digges, in his last screen role). Moses is a retired newspaper owner whose company employs Cassie. Complicating matters and increasing the soap opera value, it is revealed that Moses is Emily's father. Moses is not quite comic relief, but he does bring an airy lightness to an otherwise somber motion picture, and his moments on camera are usually quite entertaining. Moses is a bit more human than Alex and Emily, providing emotional support to Sam when Sam returns from battle as a cripple. Moses' concern for his grandson causes Alex to redirect his focus and help Sam, too.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.10.40 PM.jpeg

When THE SEARCHING WIND concludes you realize something. Not all films provide immediate gratification. Some of them take longer to play out on screen, and they might make viewers work a little harder. But if the audience's thought process has gone in a slightly more profound direction-- like Cassie Bowman's does-- then perhaps it's all been worth it.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.48.31 PM.jpeg

Douglas Dick should have been a major motion-picture star. 

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2 minutes ago, rayban said:

Douglas Dick should have been a major motion-picture star. 

Yes, I don't know why he wasn't. He would have worked well at MGM, as a love interest to Jane Powell in her films.

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Essential: THE STRANGER (1946)

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Not long ago I was reading user reviews for this film on the IMDb. I inadvertently stumbled across comments that the story has a gay subtext running through it. I hadn't looked at it that way before, but maybe it's there. I wonder if Orson Welles was conscious of any gay subtext.

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It does seem fairly obvious that Welles is using religion and small-town secrecy as a means of addressing a community’s so-called great hidden evils. So maybe there is a possibility that men were having sex with each other on the down-low in 1946 and entering into sham marriages with women to camouflage their activities. This situation might seem more plausible than a Nazi war criminal like Franz Kindler taking up residence in one of America’s towns.

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Any man hiding his homosexuality from his wife would certainly be a stranger to her. If this is a correct reading of the subtext, then Welles is telling a powerful story and subverting the production code.

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Five different people are listed as having contributed to the writing of the screenplay for THE STRANGER– including John Huston and Welles himself. Since Welles is the director, he has the most influence over the shaping of the material and what winds up on screen. Though any one of these contributors could have added extra layers or subtext to the narrative.

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The scene with the boys playing and the two men having intense physical contact in the bushes is very odd, to say the least. It is like what one often sees with Hitchcock, that murders and sex are symbolically linked. In this case we observe a perverse death in THE STRANGER, and the way it is juxtaposed with a parade of adolescent boys in the woods underscores the idea that unnatural activities are occurring in this sleepy hamlet. Later, the dog's determination to dig up the body and the killing of the dog re-emphasizes such unnaturalness.

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And then there's the dinner table scene where Mary (Loretta Young) tells Mr. Wilson the investigator (Edward G. Robinson) that she doesn't want the town clock to work, even after her honeymoon. Is this a nod to the strangely dysfunctional dynamic between her and Kindler and their brand of intimacy? In the end, their intimacy is exposed for the fraud it is. She reasons that her reputation and her love have been ruined, to the extreme lengths that it is now her turn to die and to take Kindler with her in the fall-- borrowing imagery from the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld.

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A viewer might find different ways to connect to the events and situations depicted in THE STRANGER. Whether these components have been intentionally added or even subconsciously placed there by the screenwriters and the director is almost irrelevant. The film is a window into the soul. A troubled soul maybe.

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Essential: STRANGE INTRUDER (1956)

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This is the story of Paul Quentin (Edmund Purdom), a Korean war vet attempting to readjust to civilian society. He is discharged from the army and decides to visit the family of a pal that died in a prisoner of war camp. The pal, a guy named Adrian Carmichael (Donald Murphy), had learned that wife Alice (Ida Lupino) was cheating on him. Since Adrian was dying, he asked Paul to make sure his kids were looked after, but Adrian did not want any other man to raise them.

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As the story gets underway, Paul is on a mission of sorts. He has no family of his own, and he's decided to look up the Carmichaels. He's doing this because of the promise he made to Adrian, but also because he feels empowered to right a few wrongs. This may not seem too strange at first, but he'll be intruding on the Carmichaels' way of life and that may not be good.

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After he arrives on the Carmichaels' doorstep, Paul gets to know Adrian's widow. It's obvious Alice still feels bad about having committed adultery while her late husband was serving in Korea. She has broken it off with the other man, but is now being blackmailed.

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Meanwhile, Paul gets acquainted with Adrian's children. And during his time with them, he decides that Alice is not decent and concocts a plan to spare them a life with such a mother. He's going to kill the children to save them and ensure that they're not raised by anyone else. Yes, it's that unconventional a story. Purdom is no great shakes as an actor, but director Irving Rapper and costar Lupino (herself a director) each guide Purdom to a credible performance.

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The film also benefits from strong supporting work by Ann Harding in her last big screen role as Alice's mother-in-law. She is the one who starts to realize the danger they all now face. Meanwhile, Jacques Bergerac is on hand as Howard Gray, the cad that's blackmailing Alice. But it's really Rapper's sharp compositions that make this a compelling melodrama to watch. A lot happens in this film, both within the characters, and around them.

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This is conveyed by the intelligent way that Rapper stages and frames the action. In particular, there is one shot where Paul goes to open an old grandfather clock to set the time, and as he pulls back the mirror-like glass panel, we see multiple images of his face reflected. Rapper shoots it through the hollowed out insides of the clock-- and we get a glimpse of how Paul ticks, literally and figuratively.

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There are also scenes where Paul plays the piano and Alice hovers around him, trying to find out from him if her husband knew about her infidelity. They are both at cross-purposes. The music stops, and the focus goes back to the children and how Paul must "save" them.

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The scene in the barn is the most intense. This is where Paul wrestles with his own demons about what to do to help the children. At one point, he decides to drown them. They are looking at their reflections in some water, and he puts his hands on the back their necks to submerge their faces all the way. It's a shocking scene, especially for 1956.

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Somehow, miraculously, there is a happy ending. And the ending is certainly plausible, if unexpected. Paul has not been able to bring himself to kill the children. And now, he has decided to go to a V.A. hospital to get psychological treatment. STRANGE INTRUDER is a smoothly played film, with Lupino's flawless performance at the center of it all. It stays with the viewer a long time afterward, and that's what classic films do.

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June Focus: British crime flicks

From WWII to the Cold War. Jlewis and I look at some extraordinary postwar British cinema.

***

Saturday June 1, 2019 

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THE OCTOBER MAN (1947)

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Saturday June 8, 2019 

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HUNTED (1952)

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Saturday June 15, 2019 

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TIGER BAY (1959)

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Saturday June 22, 2019 

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SAPPHIRE (1959)

***

Saturday June 29, 2019 

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THE TAMARIND SEED (1974)

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This weekend I will be posting a Q-and-A discussion that Jlewis and I had recently about:

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Essential: THE OCTOBER MAN (1947)

Part 1 of 2

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Significance of the title

TB: JLewis and I are discussing the classic postwar film THE OCTOBER MAN, starring John Mills. It's a unique title.

JL: The title of this movie has minor significance to the storyline. The Piscean actor John Mills (whose voice often reminds me of fellow Piscean David Niven even though they look nothing alike) plays Jim Ackland, a Libra or “October Man” who is described as “affable, suave, dapper" and someone who has a "sense of duty." Also he "loves life." Yet Jim does think about ending his own twice, looking down at train tracks. When he hears that last description, he appears hesitant to agree, but gains a lot of confidence in himself by the end credits.

TB: Saying he loves life seems ironic. But I saw it more as a foreshadowing that he will beat the odds. The film starts with a tragedy. He's involved in a terrible bus crash, and it sets in a motion a series of events that nearly overtake his life. What were your thoughts about that? Also, as you indicated, Mills plays a man continually on the brink of suicide. What did you think of the screeching train whistles and the tied handkerchief, as symbols of his inner torment?

JL: The bus crash is important in establishing his suicidal tendencies. Your mention of this reminds of a few other details to the tricks he performs with his handkerchief, turning it into a playful bunny with the girl before the crash. Later it's viewed as a strangling device by the police investigator.

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Similar to other classic films

TB: I think the film shares themes with RANDOM HARVEST because of the amnesia that Mills' character experiences. Also, it's a bit similar to THE BLUE DAHLIA because of the head injury trauma. Would you agree?

JL: I saw RANDOM HARVEST a few times, but THE BLUE DAHLIA is one I haven't seen in a long while and would have to revisit.

TB: In THE BLUE DAHLIA, William Bendix plays a returning serviceman who has experienced brain damage in battle. We don't quite get that in THE OCTOBER MAN with Mills' character, though it might be suggested that his condition is similar to that of men who've just come back from the war.

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John Mills

TB: What are your feelings about Mills as an actor? One review I read said he gives an honest performance. I agree and also feel he gives a very understated and graceful performance. The way he conveys the barely suppressed hysteria of the main character is outstanding.

JL: Always liked John Mills' acting in the films I did see. This was a good vehicle for him. It is interesting to compare Mills here with his previous role in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, where his Pip deals with Miss Havisham who essentially committed mental suicide after losing the love of her life and then forcing Jean Simmons/Valerie Hobson's Estella to almost become as "dead" as her. He is very optimistic in that one but pessimistic here. In this film it is Joan Greenwood's character Jenny who saves him, as Pip saves Estelle at the end of the other movie.

TB: This sort of keeps him from getting typecast in these motion picture assignments. I felt like he was channeling the wounded hero in his portrayal-- physical recovery and mental recovery, after a traumatic event. The bus crash might stand-in for the disaster and fatalities that men experienced first-hand in the war; though his character is a civilian, and he's a chemist. He carries this wounding with him throughout the rest of the story, until the very end.

JL: You are right about the "metaphor of a post-war soldier", which relates it to RANDOM HARVEST (Ronald Colman being a survivor of the first world war in a movie released during the second), but I also wonder if the timing of its release factors more than anything specific. I was not thinking of the war at all when watching it because so many other stories and movies (i.e. GREAT EXPECTATIONS) just need any tragedy to cause havoc on a main character.

TB: I like how we see him lose everything in the beginning. Then he gradually rebuilds his life. Settling into the hotel, starting his new job, meeting new people, falling in love, regaining his confidence. Then it's all in jeopardy again when the murder occurs. They could have included more subtle references to the war, if they wanted Mills to represent an ex-soldier. So while Eric Ambler's story doesn't really "go all the way there," I do think Mills is referencing that consciously in his performance. This is where I feel it's an admirable piece of acting. He's taking the contrived scenario and making it realistic.

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Joyce Carey and the other women in the cast

JL: Joyce Carey seemed to get as much, if not more, screen time as Joan Greenwood despite the latter's second billing. This makes me wonder why her character was so important to the story. She viewed Jim as rude and unsociable simply because he didn't want to play cards, which established him as the outsider viewed as a potential suspect when it was really an insider (Peachy was part of The Gang) responsible for the murder. This theme of the outsider not being trusted relates it to many other key 1940s classics such as THE OX-BOW INCIDENT and CROSSFIRE. Of course, the more detailed we get here, the more we will spoil the plot for readers.

TB: Thoughts about the rest of the supporting cast?

JL: Like John Mills, who previously appeared in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, we get plenty of the David Lean connection here. Kay Walsh gets strangled in this movie, and as Nancy in Oliver Twist. But she also appeared in company with Mills in the earlier Lean/Noel Coward collaborations, IN WHICH WE SERVE and THIS HAPPY BREED. 

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TB: What about Joan Greenwood? I found her to be most effective as the love interest. She doesn't have oodles of screen time, but her role is essential, especially when it comes time for the plot's denouement.

JL: Cutie-pie Joan Greenwood plays Mills' new girlfriend Jenny even though she doesn't have a whole lot to do besides be his support system. Her better roles came later on. In things like KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, or the Ray Harryhausen film MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. And she was seen wooing Albert Finney as Lady Bellaston in TOM JONES.

TB: Catherine Lacey is also in this picture.

JL: Catherine Lacey is another familiar face running the boarding house/hotel, also seen in famous titles like Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! and WHISKEY GALORE. Then there's Edward Chapman...he did some early Hitchcock predating Lacey, but he is more famous for such Alexander Korda spectacles as THINGS TO COME and REMBRANDT.

***

Tomorrow Jlewis and I discuss Chapman's character in THE OCTOBER MAN. And we also look at how the police are represented in this film. Make sure you join us for Part 2...

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John Mills has never failed to impress me.

I recently saw him in "Tunes Of Glory".

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1 hour ago, rayban said:

John Mills has never failed to impress me.

I recently saw him in "Tunes Of Glory".

Yes, Ray...he has a most impressive filmography. His performances were always solid, but he also knew how to pick good scripts and the characters he played would vary from project to project.

TUNES OF GLORY is a film I should review at some point.

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It has been a while since I had seen that one. Tunes Of Glory also has Kate Walsh in the cast. I had forgotten she was also in Great Expectations, making it three films with John Mills... and counting.

Watching these films, I have been asking myself: Is there a difference between British "noir" and Hollywood "noir"? Perhaps the most famous title is The Third Man, which features Brit reliable Trevor Howard alongside Yanks Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles; much of the scenery being neither country but Vienna, Austria. The overall "international" feel of that film became the trademark of all future big budget productions in multiple genres. This was particularly so in the sixties and seventies with so many "backed by" Hollywood but "technically" British efforts like the David Lean wide-screen spectaculars, anything Stanley Kubrick, Star Wars and Superman: The Movie!

For a while, between the mid thirties and early fifties at least, Technicolor productions of various genres were easy to distinguish by origin due to the fact that a higher percentage of American films tended to be shot in southern California rather than New York and other states, thus displaying very bright high-contrast outdoor scenes. Wings Of The Morning and the classic Powell-Pressburgers were much softer and probably more realistic in skin-tones due to all of the cloud cover diffusing the spectrum. Hollywood caught on to both critics and audiences favoring the Brit imports as more "natural" and new filters were applied to cameras in order to eliminate this distinction.

When I think of studios like Hammer Film Productions, I don't think of them as British apart from the number of performers with the accent, but as distinctive as, say, Cohn era Columbia Pictures and Republic Pictures with a unique "look" in their sets and camera work, along with a specialty: slapstick comedy (especially Columbia's short films), action-pack western or, in Hammer's case, horror. I don't think of  geography.

I guess one distinction with the 40s-50s "noirs" is that there were more characters operating as part of a group in the British versions, while many U.S. classics tended to feature a lot of solo characters who are detached, regardless of which side of the law they operate. Of course, most of the characters aren't supporting the lead in The October Man but they are like birds of a feather. This may reflect a nation that experienced more as a group due to cramped living conditions in fall out shelters and escaping enemy bombs, plus having to deal with the war first-hand two years longer. There was also more of a sense of humor with the Brits, maybe because they were less "sheltered" in other ways.

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16 hours ago, Jlewis said:

Of course, most of the characters aren't supporting the lead in The October Man but they are like birds of a feather. This may reflect a nation that experienced more as a group due to cramped living conditions in fall out shelters and escaping enemy bombs, plus having to deal with the war first-hand two years longer. 

This is a great observation. 

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Essential: THE OCTOBER MAN (1947)

Part 2 of 2

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TB: I am back with Jlewis as we continue our discussion about THE OCTOBER MAN.

Edward Chapman as Peachy

TB: Let's go a bit more in-depth with Chapman's performance. He's brilliant in this film.

JL: We find out his character, Peachy, is the killer two-thirds of the way in...and are not terribly surprised. Then we spend the last twenty minutes with Jim (John Mills) in a mad dash to a train station to stop Peachy and prove his own innocence.

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TB: I love the scene earlier at the boarding house where Jim confronts Peachy, in order to out him as the killer. Mainly because this is where we see how twisted Peachy is. He's defiant, and he thinks he will get away with killing Molly. Peachy is counting on a prevailing prejudice against the mentally ill to corner Jim and ensure that Jim is blamed. I love how deranged and bold Peachy is during this confrontation, and how nihilistic it all is for Jim...since he knows Peachy is right. Jim's going to take the fall for Molly's murder and Peachy will get away, unless Jim fights back and does something about it. Truly excellent acting with John Mills and Edward Chapman.

JL: Yeah... I had mixed feelings about that scene. It was somewhat effective and, yes, Jim was judged "mental" while Peachy was not, so Peachy had less going against him. Again, this is an overall theme of sorts that Peachy is not the outsider who must prove himself like Jim has to. I can also relate it slightly, if not directly, to how Jimmy Stewart's character had a fear of heights (and a death trauma that started it) that was used against him by the villain killer in VERTIGO. I don't know...something just felt a little off about this scene with Peachy, but I can't place what it is exactly. It didn't seem as realistic as other parts of the movie.

TB: Interesting. I like how Ambler wove in the class warfare stuff. Where we learn that Peachy could afford to own ten of these boarding houses, but he was slumming because Molly stayed here. So he was lowering himself, taking up with people beneath his station in life...because he needed love.

JL: I guess what I liked was Peachy demonstrating just how arrogant and self confident he was by telling Jim all of this point-blank when he could have not told him anything. This prompts the "uh-oh" when he thinks he is all set to fly to Lisbon and get away from British law because he didn't expect Jim to successfully find out his flight destination so quickly.

TB: And of course the mistake Peachy made was he should have gone off to Glasgow, long enough for Jim to be arrested. Then he could have made his way to Lisbon from Glasgow. The one thing where I think Ambler's plot stretches credibility is that the police wait so long before they decide that Jim's their man and go off to arrest him. I don't think we're supposed to feel the police are that incompetent. They are being thorough, but they take their sweet time arresting Jim.

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How the police are represented

JL: The police are not necessarily incompetent. But it is well known that Hitchcock was often critical of cops in many of his movies and I sensed that Ambler was a bit too. Plus it adds to the excitement of the accused to prove his innocence himself. An attorney would make it all too easy for him and we won't have enough suspense! There are quite a few Hitchcock comparisons that can be made here, as you can see from my many examples.

TB: I suppose Ambler needs to have the police act slowly, so that Jim is free to confront Peachy and figure out where Peachy's going. But I felt that was the weakest part. I think the police would have been more aggressive. Also not once does Jim even consider finding an attorney to consult with, he's more interested in either going back to the hospital for treatment, or else killing himself. Before he develops the resolve to bring Peachy down.

JL: In many respects, this is a lighter weight version of such Alfred Hitchcock nuggets as STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE WRONG MAN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and several others that feature the falsely accused having to take matters into his own hands. I have a feeling that producer-writer Eric Ambler and director Roy Ward Baker viewed cops as equally incompetent in the way they investigate crimes as Hitch often did.

TB: I loved the scene with Jim accusing Mrs. Vinton (Joyce Carey) of lying to the police.

JL: Yeah... she had me in her corner when she sobbed to Stanley Holloway's Albert in BRIEF ENCOUNTER, but not so much here in her more manipulative sobbing after Jim tells her "it was the only way to get to the truth." All of the characters seemed just as handicapped as Jim felt he was. The constant pleading for "more coal in the room" seemed quite helpless and child-like, which made Jim's mission to prove his own innocence by racing to the train station on time all the more heroic. Note too that he was the one fixing the fuse box when you know these people can't all be that stupid.

TB: These people were exhibiting what I call "learned helplessness." Jim was the only one who became self-empowered. Though I guess we can say that Peachy also had a sense of power and control, misguided as it was. The character I found most annoying, however, was the girlfriend's brother...the guy Jim worked with...he seemed to doubt Jim when Jim most needed his support. As if he felt that Jim was not good enough for his sister and he'd let Jim twist in the wind. The brother finally comes round near the end, but some of his actions earlier in the film were a bit unforgivable.

JL: I think the whole point there was that the only one besides Jim who supported Jim was Jenny. Even Jenny was at odds with her own family in that regard. Proof that she was in love with him. This counters the warning made earlier in the film that he should not marry right away due to his condition. He needed somebody who supported him and, even if I stated that Joan Greenwood didn't have much to do in her role, she was the only one there "for better and for worse."

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Erwin Hillier's cinematography

TB: Let's talk about the film's cinematography for a moment. Erwin Hillier had started with Fritz Lang as an assistant cameraman on M (1931). The German expressionism of Hillier's earlier career seems to be influencing this work. The cinematography has a lot of deep blacks and brilliant whites, which I love. We see almost all dark exteriors and the interiors are often dimly lit. This adds greatly to the story, really creating a strong atmosphere.

JL: Like many post-war Brit Hollywood productions that carry the Rank gong at the start (Eagle-Lion, Rank's short-lived American company, distributed it to the yanks across the Big Pond), this Two-Cities operation is one very classy production with great moody cinematography by Erwin Hillier and a slushy orchestra score to match. I love the fog scenes featured, as well as a few key shots of multiple characters shown in deep focus à la Gregg Toland.

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Astrology in the movie

TB: One of the minor themes in THE OCTOBER MAN is astrology. How did that come across to you?

JL: Jim receives a horoscope reading from a fellow boarding house resident named Molly (Kay Walsh). She is probably a Gemini (or early Cancer) and has all of her troubles coming in twos. One comes in a man named Wilcox (Jack Melford), whom she is romancing despite him being married and not leaving his wife. Another, Mr. Peachy, is one whom she is trying to avoid but had to borrow money from earlier. There is nothing going on between her and Jim apart from his fixing the electricity in her room and sympathizing with her hard luck by writing her a loan check for fifty pounds so she can pay Peachy back.

TB: Yes, Jim is a noble guy, being kind to her.

JL: That very check causes trouble for him later when it is found on her strangled-to-death body. Poor Jim is a suspect, despite only socializing with her twice. Since he previously went to a mental hospital for a head injury in a bus accident... and one that claimed the life of a little girl he was taking care of in a double whammy of trauma... he sometimes has black out spells. Unfortunately he can't remember what he was doing at the time of Molly's death.

TB: This is all part of the wounded hero thing going on in the movie. We see Jim's impulses towards violence and suicide, balanced by a desire to become more stable and clear his name.

JL: Again, there are a lot of Little Things that may just be... little things of unimportance... or important details for story and character.

TB: Going back to the title for a moment. I had expected it to take place in October, or for the climax to occur in October. I thought the month would play a more significant part in the story but it really does not. They could just as easily have called it The Libra Man. Again such description of him as relates to astrology doesn't have much bearing on the plot...except that it's part of how he and Molly spend time getting to know each other.

JL: I also wondered about the significance of her astrology book being present upon the time of her death. No, the movie is not perfectly integrated as a whole and I sense that the crew was selecting certain tidbits from other movies that were successful just to get a satisfying drama out to theaters. Yet it is still a fun movie to watch.

TB: What did you think about the card games?

JL: The card games involve a clever hand motion and we see a character splitting them up close, much as we do Jim's tying his cloth in various knots. Therefore, virtually all of the characters seem rather stressed out and need some sort of outlet. Again, this was typical fodder for the Hollywood forties: Bette Davis fussing with her needlework in THE LETTER and ditto Olivia de Havilland in THE HEIRESS (regardless of the actual time frame of the stories not being the decade they were made) to Dana Andrews and his baseball pin toy in LAURA that annoys Clifton Webb to no end. I am not quite sure how the astrology talk, which is where the title comes from, fits in here apart from getting Molly to say that Jim "loves life"... and he does in the end.

TB: Well, we've certainly discussed this film at length, and it has been a lot of fun. Thanks JLewis for providing your insights. The good news is that THE OCTOBER MAN may currently be viewed on YouTube. I hope our readers will take a look at it.

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I agree that the title is... hmmmm... kinda pointless and the astrology angle doesn't go beyond the fleeting discussion of Libras and her book being present when her body was found. At first I thought the astrology book itself might reveal something hand-written by her in it that would be useful to the police investigation, but it wound up as just a throwaway visual item of no importance. Plus, as you noted, the story did not take place in the month of October, but in March shortly after the birthday of Pisces actor John Mills.

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This weekend I will be discussing HUNTED (1952) with Jlewis.

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Essential: HUNTED (1952)

Part 1 of 2

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Dirk Bogarde and Jon Whiteley

TB: Dirk Bogarde said HUNTED was his personal favorite of all the motion pictures he made, and it's easy to see why it was such a special experience for him. I think he does a remarkable job, and nearly all his scenes occur with young Jon Whiteley. Whiteley was a novice to moviemaking but he's a natural. Thoughts on their working relationship, and the relationship between their two characters, Chris and Robbie?

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JL: I saw at least one documentary on Dirk's career but did not know what films were his favorites. It is a different kind of role for a leading man of romantic films at this early stage of his career, so I can understand why he liked it. Later, of course, he took on equally curious and sometimes sinister roles for Luchino Visconti and others in the more "international" period of his career. No, he does not look like the killer type, but that is based on how stereotypical killers are portrayed on screen.

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JL: Jon Whiteley is a natural, as is Hayley Mills (who will be discussed next week). However this is the only role I have seen him in. I have not seen THE SPANISH GARDENER. He reminds me of the two most famous on-screen Oliver Twists. Not Jackie Coogan, but John Howard Davies and Mark Lester. Obviously these boys contrast from spunky Hayley who is a bundle of energy and has little trouble taking care of herself. The character of Robbie constantly needs somebody's personal care.

Chris and Robbie

TB: On screen the relationship between Chris and Robbie evolves considerably. At first, Chris is a bit rough with Robbie (not unlike the boy's abusive adoptive father). But gradually Chris softens. It's an unusual sort of redemption story. Would you agree?

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JL: The way Chris grabs Robbie by the arm and drags him about reminded me of the way both of my parents were with me. They were very impatient with me, even though they weren't criminals on the run like Chris here. That is why the key scene with the boarding house lady (Jane Aird) is so important. She notices he has been through abuse and we, the viewers, know it is not on account of Chris.

TB: We do not get too much of Robbie's backstory.

JL: From what we gather, Robbie was playing with matches and burned his stepmother's curtains but thinks he burned down the house. Believing he is a criminal at the tender age of seven, he is running away...and winding up with another criminal that he discovered standing over a corpse. Chris is a sympathetic character we find ourselves oddly rooting for. We do not see the murder take place and are not entirely sure if it was partly an accident and partly a result of Chris getting caught up in his passions, but murder is still murder and his running away is not helping his case.

Fugitives

TB: The premise doesn't seem like it would generate strong box office. We have a violent killer running off with a troubled boy. Initially, nobody they meet seems to suspect them of being fugitives. But things do get more difficult for them when Chris makes the front page of the newspaper. Do you find them being able to take off so easily a realistic thing?

JL: You say he is a "violent killer" but that is major problem here for me. We don't see how the murder is committed and whether it was done in cold-blood or more accidentally. He does appear dazed and upset when we first see him as if he is trying to process what had happened. We also don't see Chris particularly "violent" during the rest of the movie.

TB: Yes, that's correct. Chris does not exhibit violent tendencies after the murder.

JL: Regarding whether or not the police was too slow in responding (testing our sense of realism here), what I found particularly interesting were all of the scenes of bombed out buildings that hadn't been rebuilt after a war that ended six or seven years ago. It sent a message that Great Britain still had plenty of "rubble" to sort through and that it was rather easy for certain criminals to get a head start in their escapes.

Two lost souls

TB: I read a comment in a user review on the IMDb that I think is worth bringing up. A reviewer said "They are two lost souls traversing the countryside together. They are two people of different ages teaming up for a common cause."

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TB: Do you agree with this? At what point, do we take the rose-colored glasses off and say you know what, this is really a story about child abduction? I think society in late 1951 when this movie was filmed, obviously was very different from society now. It would be a tough sell to make this film today and try to market it as a feel-good buddy film. Also I think people would automatically assume he abducted the boy for sexual reasons. It wouldn't seem so innocent now. What's your take on that aspect of the film?

JL: On the surface, it seems like Robbie has been kidnapped as a witness to a crime and his step-parents are with the police trying to find him. Yet Robbie wants to stay with Chris. It is not like Chris is mean at him at all.

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JL: We do not know all of the plot details right away, which makes the story all the more interesting. For example, we are merely teased early on who the corpse is in a newspaper Chris reads, but much later find out, after confronting his wife (Elizabeth Sellars), that he was her boss whom she may have been having an affair with. Likewise, we only much later learn, as they are staying at a boarding house, that Robbie has bruises on his body that did NOT come from Chris. No, home is not a happy place for him to be.

TB: How do Chris and Robbie relate to one another? They form a rather strong bond in a short period of time.

JL: Chris can relate to Robbie's lack of family love. His own brother refuses to take them in, although he was still nice enough to feed them, because of his “reputation with the community.” These two are outsiders who have nobody but each other. They bond like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier (in THE DEFIANT ONES) while on the run, even if running is not the best option for seven year olds who happen to get sick... and, as a result, Chris must make the ultimate decision in the dramatic climax aboard a herring boat.

Postwar poverty and the influence of Italian neorealism

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TB: Let's switch gears a bit and discuss the overarching theme. Or at least one of the main themes, which is postwar poverty. HUNTED conveys a sense of gritty realism and there's very little sentimentality, except in a few key scenes. Robbie doesn't smile until halfway into the story. And he doesn't laugh until near the end. But then he gets sick, so his sunny disposition doesn't last long. There really isn't a lot of joy in this movie. Any specific thoughts on that?

JL: I saw a lot of similarities to the Italian imports, the neorealism of Vittorio de Sica, Roberto Rossellini and future Bogarde director Visconti. One key smiling scene of Robbie eating pasta with Chris and his brother reminded me of a similar scene in the pessimistic THE BICYCLE THIEVES, which topped the Sight & Sound poll the same year this film was released to theaters and was a benchmark of sorts that many "artistic" film-makers were imitating.

TB: Tomorrow Jlewis and I continue to discuss HUNTED and what makes it so special.

Please be sure to join us for Part 2..

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