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TopBilled’s Essentials


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Adding one humorous addition here. There is a rather amusing Hollywood liberty taken. The calendar in the school room reads Friday, December 13, 1932 when the actual 13th was a Tuesday. I am curious why they did not just use a calendar without the year printed on it.

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Essential: DELIVERANCE (1972)

TB: This weekend and next weekend, we will go a bit outside the box. The theme is "Rape and Revenge." Jlewis is going to review the classic revenge drama DELIVERANCE (1972) today. Then next Saturday, I will be reviewing the revenge western THE MCMASTERS (1970).

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JL: “Sometimes you have to lose yourself before you can find anything.”

This is Burt Reynolds' key line that most of us remember from this particular title, establishing its primary theme of man versus nature...and man versus his inner “nature,” so to speak. There are scenes of bulldozers rearranging the land as four city dwellers decide to conquer nature in the form of wild water rapids.

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This modestly budgeted adventure suspense was a surprise hit in its day and it is understandable why. In many respects, it was a throwback to the schoolboy adventures of decades earlier with echoes of such RKO productions like THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, THE LOST PATROL, possibly KING KONG too with its similar men-against-the-unknown theme, and even substandard Disney fare like TEN WHO DARED, made just over a decade earlier. Curiously Hollywood hadn't been churning out much of this genre lately, but American moviegoers hadn't lost interest. The key difference here is that backwoods Georgia seemed a bit less “foreign” to American moviegoers than “darkest” Africa, the Sahara or some prehistoric island.

It should be mentioned that this was filmed during the summer of 1971 when the Vietnam War was still going strong. That conflict also put U.S. men (mostly) in unpredictable forest settings fearful of ambush from hidden adversaries, much like the foursome on a canoe trip gone wrong here. The military angle would be developed even further with Walter Hill's SOUTHERN COMFORT, also set in an ominous “jungle” of another southern state, Louisiana. (Needless to say, the U.S. “South” wasn't treated all that well on screen in the early seventies, perhaps because so many filmmakers resided outside of the Mason-Dixon line and didn't quite understand all of the rage and violence during the civil rights movement period.)

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We get a sense of the unknown and mysterious when the automobiles driven/ridden by our four leads stop at a rusty gas station full of...wrecked automobiles! This junkyard is like some border land between two galaxies, one settled and one unsettled. The human inhabitants who have adapted to this curious way station are a curious lot themselves. Particular emphasis is on their inadequate dental work, with some sporting fewer teeth than the medieval peasants populating the Pasolini films of this same cinematic time period.

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No women here. Just the dudes exercising their masculine thirst for adventure. I guess this ages it considerably since a modern update would include some strong “chick” showing her muscle. Then again, all men are just little boys at heart, still fearful of the boogeyman.

Speaking of fear, I chickened out watching the kangaroo slaughter in another film TopBilled suggested (WAKE IN FRIGHT) but had curiously forgotten the surprisingly graphic scene of a simple trout being speared for dinner in this film. Yes, it is only a fish and maybe I reacted too strongly for my own good. Humorously we are teased into thinking we will see Bambi get slaughtered next, but Jon Voight's Ed fidgets too much with his arrow and the fluffy white tail frolics away into the bushes.

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However Burt Reynolds' Lewis never misses his shot with fish...and with humans. Therefore, we witness a human murder in equally graphic detail (if faked) and, as the corpse lays against a tree branch, Lewis examines it with the same intense interest he might display over some fallen buck.

This brings me to the infamous assault “squeal like a pig” scene that spurns the killing. I guess it was a novelty for the time since usually women were depicted as victims in such situations. It also, regrettably, represents the rather obvious anti-gay phobias of the era. I won't get into all of the psychological way-we-were analysis here and judge the film and James Dickey's novel it is based upon as anything more than products of their times, but it should be noted that this followed in quick procession after MGM's men-in-prison FORTUNE AND MEN'S EYES, representing a rather peculiar fetish that quite a few filmmakers were exploiting at this time.

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I also find it interesting that Ned Beatty's “Average Joe” Bobby, who possibly lacks a girlfriend and could be questioned orientation-wise, is the one who gets assaulted while Jon Voight as Ed is spared in the nick of time. Why? Because, not only is Jon the actor almost as handsome and hunky as Burt, but his character is the one who is very “hetero” with a wife and an awfully cute blonde haired boy shown in a photo. Golden rule in Hollywood: make the pretty people who represent wholesome family values suffer less on screen than the less pretty folk.

In any case, the whole point of this scene is to establish the revenge act of Lewis and this makes me wonder, despite the film giving absolutely no indication, if Lewis the character resembles Susan Sarandon's Louise of THELMA AND LOUISE in doing this to prevent (for attractive Ed the wholesome daddy at least) a repeat experience he himself suffered once upon a time.

Regardless, three of the four guys are soon focused on covering up Lewis' crime rather than the crime that instigated it.

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Should the truth be reported or should they merely bury the corpse, which may get buried further after the river gets demolished by bulldozers? They all want to avoid problems with the local law and the locals themselves, who behave in this curious “foreign” manner like savage jungle inhabitants. I must especially praise Bill McKinney's brilliant method acting as one very believable corpse, complete with unblinking eyes even as his grave is being dug and you know the dust must be flying in his face.

The cover up is then followed by an almost drowning through the rapids, the disappearance of Drew, then Lewis getting shot in the leg and anguishing in pain. We once again return to the film's schoolboy adventure roots and even see Jon Voight climb a mountainside! Plus another jungle “headhunter," assisting in the first crime, gets killed by him in self defense despite his shaky hands. Both now and in previous viewings, I find myself dozing somewhat as these action scenes get more intensified, probably because much material resembles past films I've watched even if the violent content might have been more restrained by the earlier efforts' production code.

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I guess the whole “deliverance” from evil is spelled out when they finally leave the water and we see a prominent Church of Christ covering half the screen. American moviegoers love religious themes in their movies despite pretending that they don't. After all, before the flickers began, most of the entertainment many enjoyed in rural parts involved fire and brimstone delivered at the Sunday pulpit. Does this suggest that God has forgiven these guys for being involved in murder since the ones who were killed were doomed to...well, you know?

Then again...we see that the church doesn't stay put. Ed and Bobby see it while riding a taxi as it is being carried mobile to another location. “Christ,” Bobby humorously responds as he continues to struggle keeping their secrets secret. There is no turning back from their conscience that something isn't quite right about covering up the truth. Although I sense Bobby gets over it quickly, Ed still has those ominous dreams haunting him.

Have to discuss the cast further here.

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Voight is the one getting the most screen time and is billed above the rest. No surprise there since he was the established star going into this, with an Oscar nomination under his belt. He is one of those actors who photographs well because emotions are very easy to read on his face. This brings me to Vilmos Zsigmond's wonderful camera work that often shoots him behind an auto windshield or building window with reflections of the trees partially covering his face to suggest his half hidden, half forward personality that can't always hide what he wants to hide.

John Schlesinger in MIDNIGHT COWBOY and John Boorman directing here were both on the same wavelength utilizing Voight effectively; some shots here resemble the ones closing the previous Best Picture Oscar winner with a melancholy Voight half hidden in that bus window as Miami palm trees pass by. The strong emphasis on the summer foliage acting as another “character” in the film is also expanded further in other scenes as Voight is the one most often shown peeking from behind leaves and tree branches.

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I really like Ned Beatty as an actor and this was his great break-out role that launched a most interesting career full of stand-out supporting roles, but I do wonder if Ned's self confident and happy go lucky personality overall makes him less suitable for this demanding role. Although any rage his character had for his attacker was certainly satisfied by Lewis' actions, it seemed like Bobby (or Ned playing Bobby) virtually forgot all about the experience in short order and, under John Boorman's direction, became too focused on the cover up above all else.

There is one particularly interesting throw away scene in which Ed and Bobby are both wearing identical shirts. I am not sure if we are given an explanation why. Are they dressed alike in order to think alike with their “story?” Or have they bonded as twin brothers over their experiences?

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Unfortunately Wally Cox as Drew leaves our screens too soon for us to learn more about him and become emotionally involved. Nonetheless he does partake on screen, if not on the soundtrack, with the performance of “Dueling Banjos,” a popular Billboard hit first recorded by Arthur Smith of “Guitar Boogie” fame and officially covered here by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell. Before his character's passing, he also gives a rather energized speech to Lewis about the morality of their actions. Most of Cox's work has been in supporting roles, but he didn't become quite as popular as Ned Beatty in that arena despite a great many appearances in popular TV shows.

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Before BOOGIE NIGHTS, this was possibly Burt Reynolds' most praised-by-the-high-brows performance. Not that the high brows ever took him as seriously as his fans did. His rapid rise to fame was most interesting, since most of it happened right after principal photography on DELIVERANCE ended and before the film made it to theaters ten months later. Prior to this, most of his screen credits were in B's or supporting roles in bigger budget fare as a lesser version of the equally hairy chested Sean Connery. Then, in early 1972, he pulled a stunt more often associated with voluptuous actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Bridget Bardot with a publication called Cosmopolitan and, as they say, the rest is history...

All in all, this is an interesting film that is open to a number of interpretations. Director Boorman handled the actors brilliantly, although you can sometimes see the boo-boos in the execution. For example, in the canoe scenes, Burt Reynolds in his injured state appears and disappears rather unexpectedly as Jon and Ned are ferociously paddling. Eagle eyes may notice further details involving the various stunts involved.

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This is a good review. However, I've never felt that DELIVERANCE is much of an exploration of characters; none of them is well enough drawn for viewers to grasp what is motivating them, or how/why they are changed. I think the movie is about the inevitability of nature reclaiming its predominance, on the earth and in its creatures. The river is flowing out of control and is about to rise and overtake the land. Bodies are lost and unidentifiable, etc. The men become animals without any inhibitions to kill, etc. Undoubtedly, there is some drama with the characters as this happens, but the 'what' and 'why' are not really examined.

To me, it's similar to LORD OF THE FLIES (1963), and in a way to director John Boorman's THE EMERALD FOREST (1985).

ps: The character of Drew is played by Ronny Cox, not Wally Cox.

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Yeah... that was my boo-boo initially. No clue why I typed Wally instead of Ronny when I went the extra mile to check out Ronny's career online. Saw two of the Lord of the Flies movies and read the book in my youth. The wild and rugged settings are similar. Obviously here the characters remain buddies to the end instead of at war with each other.

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Essential: THE MCMASTERS (1970)

Last week Jlewis did a fine job reviewing DELIVERANCE, and I feel he set the bar rather high for me to follow-up with this week's review of THE MCMASTERS. I will tell you right out of the gate that this is not an easy film to watch because of the graphic nature of a few key scenes, though I do think it is essential viewing.

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I stumbled upon this title by accident a month ago on Amazon Prime. A decent looking print is also currently on YouTube. I had finished watching THE LONELY MAN (1957) and was eager to look at more westerns starring or featuring Jack Palance. Palance has a supporting role as a villain in THE MCMASTERS, and boy is he a memorable bad guy! But the film is really a vehicle for African American actor Brock Peters, though Peters is second-billed after Burl Ives. Ives was top-billed because he was a more established name by this point. Some reviewers on the IMDb have erroneously claimed Ives plays support to Peters. While I would agree that Peters has a bit more screen time, especially in the last half hour, after Ives' character is killed off, I would argue that Ives is playing a secondary lead, not a supporting role.

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What I like very much about THE MCMASTERS is its two-pronged thesis about marginalized races after the Civil War. One thesis is about how blacks, particularly black men, might move ahead financially after the abolishment of slavery. The other thesis is about the continued displacement of the native American Indian population. So basically, we have two disenfranchised groups dealing with their status in a white man's world after the war. Ives represents a politically correct white man who attempts to right some of the wrongs. Palance represents a politically incorrect white man whose need to maintain control leads to rape and murder.

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I will briefly summarize the plot, so you have an idea of what to expect and how these characters are sometimes at cross-purposes. Mostly, Palance and his gang of unruly cowboys are unhappy about the fact that black men are now free. He and his men want to push Peters off the land and out of their community. We learn early on that Peters and his family had been slaves under Ives. But Peters had gone off to fight for the North, so he's come back a "hero."

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Ives not only welcomes him home with open arms, but Ives who has no children of his own, drafts a will and makes Peters his heir. This means Peters will be allowed to stay and work the land as not only a free man but a part owner, and after Ives dies, Peters will inherit the whole estate. Yes, this does not sit well with Palance and his racist buddies who intend to do something about it. They start by taunting Peters at the local saloon, which causes Peters to pull out a gun. But Ives prevents Peters from losing his cool.

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Meanwhile, Peters has become friendly with a local tribe and he hires some of the natives to help work the land for him and Ives. Palance has also been trying to get rid of the natives. After Peters helps the natives during a brief skirmish with Palance, the tribe gives Peters one of their most attractive women to have as a wife. Not bad for a day's trouble! The wife is played by Asian actress Nancy Kwan.

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One of the more difficult scenes to watch in the film is the "wedding" sex scene between Peters and Kwan. Certainly, there are a lot of negative comments about this scene on the IMDb. While not condoning how Peters takes Kwan's virginity from her (in broad daylight in an open field), I think we are supposed to understand that he's a man with some aggression. He takes out his frustrations on his wife, the way things were taken out on him as a slave.

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Kwan's character develops a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome towards Peters. She stays with him and plays the dutiful wife, not once asking to go back to her people. Even later, when things get much more dangerous with Palance, Peters suggests that Kwan return to her tribe but she does not want to leave him. She has fallen in love with him. And for his part, Peters has also fallen in love with her. So the early brutality of their relationship gives way to a more tender and poignant romance. In other words, we see both characters grow through this unusual marriage, and on some level they are compatible.

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The drama reaches a turning point when Palance and his cohorts, frustrated by their inability to push Peters and Kwan off the land, decide to show up one day and teach Ives a lesson for "compromising" the way white men are supposed to treat blacks and natives. Ives tries to fight back but he is old and out of shape, and no match for the violent young thugs invading his home.

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The gang ends up killing Ives, and some of them assault Kwan. This of course sets Peters on a path of vengeance. And that's pretty much what the final sequence of the movie is about-- a standoff between Peters and Palance, with Palance and his men burning the estate to the ground.

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Originally there were two endings shot for this film, since the producers were unsure which ending would do well with audiences. In the first ending, Palance and the evildoers triumph over Ives and Peters; and in the second ending, Peters succeeds in avenging Ives' death.

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It seems the print I watched on Amazon Prime is an edited version that combines elements of both endings. In the ending I watched, Palance does succeed in destroying the estate. Peters then goes back to the tribe to reclaim Kwan where he had sent her when it became too dangerous for her to remain at the estate. It is said that they're going to return to the land Ives left them, and they plan to rebuild it. So while they had been burned out, there is hope that they can start over and still triumph.

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The final shot of Peters and Kwan leaving the tribe to go back to the ranch is very somber and it allows the viewer to contemplate what all this fighting over the land is worth. The natives know the people belong to the land, that the land does not belong to the people.

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In this story Ives is the master and he treats Peters like a son. We have a black man and his native wife becoming the inheritors of the white slave owner's land, which I find rather interesting. There are a lot of ways to interpret the story, and the fact that the black man not only deals with white men but also with native men-- provides dimension in terms of different relationships that occur across a post-Civil War southern/western landscape.

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I have yet to watch this western but it looks so fascinating in its storyline and cast. You mention the controversy of Brock Peters' character being... um... abusive of his “native” wife at first. Then again, viewers were less bothered by such things on screen back then than today (unfortunately... sad, but true). Also makes me wonder if he accepted this role to counter-act (in a 180 degree turnaround) his most famous role as Tom Robinson in a certain Harper Lee adaptation that requires no introduction. That character was an innocent sweetheart who just suffered from ol' South segregation, being accused of an assault that he did NOT commit with Gregory Peck defending him as his lawyer unsuccessfully against an all-white jury.

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Great selection. Looking forward to this.
My list:
Best Silent Lubitsch: Lady Windermere's Fan (1925)
Best Sound Lubitsch: Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Most Underrated Lubitsch: One Hour with You (1932)
Most Overlooked Lubitsch: Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Favorite Lubitsch: To Be or Not to Be (1942)

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8 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

Great selection. Looking forward to this.
My list:
Best Silent Lubitsch: Lady Windermere's Fan (1925)
Best Sound Lubitsch: Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Most Underrated Lubitsch: One Hour with You (1932)
Most Overlooked Lubitsch: Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Favorite Lubitsch: To Be or Not to Be (1942)

You're in luck, because we will be reviewing two of those plus one you didn't mention.

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Essential: TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942)

TB: During the first half of May we will review some of director Ernst Lubitsch's best work of the 1940s. Lubitsch died in 1947 at the age of 55. His romantic comedies still hold up well today. Like Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, Lubitsch's efforts often pushed the boundaries of what was allowed under the production code in Hollywood.

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This week we are going to focus on TO BE OR NOT TO BE, a raucous political satire that was filmed in late 1941. It was not released until early 1942, after its lead actress, Carole Lombard, had been killed in a plane crash. Lombard's last leading man is Jack Benny of all people.

JL: Jack Benny is my favorite Old Time Radio personality and I have listened to the bulk, if not all, of his surviving radio shows of the 1932-1955 period, including the 1941-42 ones that covered this particular film's making and promotion. His movies and later TV shows (and specials made up until the year he died) were always good but his radio broadcasts, in my opinion, represent him at his zenith as arguably one of the top comedians of the 20th century.

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To be honest, I actually prefer listening to him more than watching him since his personality displays so much more range audibly than visually even though his trademark smirk and “well...” expression was duplicated in cartoon form everywhere. Nonetheless I do enjoy him a lot in both this one and THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (the one he personally milked to the bank on his shows on account of its dubious “failure”). TO BE OR NOT TO BE is justifiably the one he was most proud of, according to many interviews he did late in life.

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TB: It's probably the film he is most proud of, because it was the most well-known. It was the only time he'd worked with Lubitsch, and certainly the only time he'd worked with Lombard in a motion picture. So it's definitely an "A" film. Some of Benny's assignments at Paramount, the more forgettable stuff, would be considered "B" films today. Though all his movie output received favorable publicity on his radio show.

JL: TO BE OR NOT TO BE is quite famous for multiple reasons apart from Benny, first and foremost for featuring the last of Carole Lombard's roles before her untimely death during a war bond drive. Supposedly she was cast late because Benny and Miriam Hopkins didn't fare as well together. The filming was done under much pressure by both the government and the Hays office on account of its anti-Hitler theme because, despite being released after the United States went to war, it was completed in the months just before Pearl Harbor.

TB: According to info on the TCM database, the production dates for TO BE OR NOT TO BE were from November 6, 1941 to December 24, 1941. Interesting that they were still doing scenes, perhaps retakes, on Christmas Eve.

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JL: It was a Hollywood “multi” production before such things were more common place. British producer Alexander Korda dominates with his distinctive clock logo displayed before the main credits, but it's copyrighted under the Romaine Film Corporation and released through United Artists with the top Hollywood director Ernst Lubitsch also serving as producer.

TB: Let's talk about how the film begins. Its rather clever set-up immediately draws viewers in.

JL: This film opens with one of the best “gotcha” segments in movie comedy history. A very serious tone is set up in the narration, slightly newsreel-ish but not quite newsreel-ish, as we see Hitler, played by Ted Dugan, in Warsaw examining a deli and standing rather stone-faced in the street with curious folk looking at him as the most famous face in the world.

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We then transition to Jack Benny's Joseph Tura at a pretty close mock-up of a Nazi headquarters talking to Dugan's Hitler, but then pan away to reveal that this particular scene is actually occurring on a stage in a theater.

The crew and director are then fussing about its lack of realism, especially whether or not the actor Bronski, as played by Dugan, actually looks like the real Hitler. Bronski declares that he will prove his likeness is convincing by going into the streets with his costume. We then wind up right where we started in our opening scene, with him in front of the deli and the same spectators in awe of him. Then a little girl asks for his autograph and calls him “Bronski” instead of “Hitler.” In short, this is a classic example of “don't believe what you see until it all plays out."

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TB: I think it's also Lubitsch's sly way of telling us that "reality" can be manipulated, which itself has political significance. I like how there's an assortment of characters. It's not all focused on the lead stars. Sometimes the characters work as a team, and sometimes they work at cross-purposes.

JL: The plot involves actors trying to play their roles convincingly in real life as they attempted unsuccessfully on the stage, this time to support the Polish resistance and the Royal Air Force against the Nazis in Poland. The material and adventure scenes are shown rather seriously since this is, after all, a story about war and death. Yet the jokes are plentiful and the dialogue full of witty one-liners.

TB: While watching the film, I sometimes wondered if this was a funny drama or a serious comedy. It's not exactly a comedy-drama, as such. But Lombard probably plays it more comically than dramatic.

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JL: This is strictly a farce that conveys more fantasy despite its semi-realistic Poland 1939 setting. After all, are we to believe a troupe of actors can actually infiltrate a tightly guarded and well organized German military machine with such great ease? Especially considering how well that government screened everybody it controlled and wanted to control.

TB: What did you think of some of the supporting actors? For instance, Sig Ruman as Col. Ehrhardt.

JL: Col. Ehrhardt is a bumbling dumb-dumb, but he obviously does not reflect the reality of the times. Only what nervous Americans want to be a reality since, at the start of 1942, the Allies were not exactly winning against the Axis nations.

TB: Good point. So there's some wish fulfillment going on, showing how inept the Nazis are on screen.

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JL: Sig Ruman as Nazi Col. Ehrhardt has an over-the-top call-out to his aid “Schultz!” that became a running joke in a few Daffy Duck and other cartoons of the era. Even more famous among the cinematic, academic crowd is another by the same character/star to Jack Benny's Joseph posing in disguise and regarding the “real” Joseph as an actor: “What he (Joseph Tura) did to Shakespeare we (a.k.a. the Nazis) are doing now to Poland."

Speaking of Shakespeare, the title itself references the most famous line in Hamlet, again connecting the main characters to the Allies and Britain (Shakespeare's home) and this becomes a running gag itself.

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Here, he has his Hamlet speech replacing “Love in Blume,” again getting interrupted as Robert Stack's Lt. Stanislav Sobinski repeatedly leaving the audience during it to go woo his wife, Lombard as Maria Tura, behind his back. The joke is repeated...yet again...in the final scene with somebody else taking the place of Stanislav and prompting a reaction from both Joseph and Stanislav.

TB: Some gags work better on radio, and some work better on screen. In this case, seeing someone else take Stanislav's place works quite well as a visual gag. What did you think of the story's "romantic" elements?

JL: Romantic triangles are as common in Lubitsch comedies as loud choo-choos are in David Lean epics. The Joseph/Maria/Stanislav one is quite silly and likely not physical. Carole Lombard's Maria is her usual fluffy and scatterbrained self who enjoys the flattery of a handsome young jock, but makes it clear she isn't exactly “in love” with him.

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Although most of us remember Robert Stack in his later middle-age, somewhat stuffy TV years, he is very young and virile here. Joseph is constantly jealous and quite over blown about it, but the film takes a most enjoyable turn with its established infidelity theme once Stansilav ends up in his own bed with his own pajamas!

TB: We should mention that in 1940, Robert Stack had played a young Nazi in MGM's classic war drama THE MORTAL STORM. Stack is such a nice looking guy that's a bit difficult to buy him as a villain or as the other man in a triangle.

JL: Yes. We are asked to question if what we are seeing is to be accepted as reality, as expressed in our opening shots of a Hitler who isn't Hitler standing in front of a Polish deli. All of the performers make it clear that they love performing at all times. Lionel Atwill's Rawich aims to out-“ham” the often hammy Joseph, trying so hard to be serious in Hamlet. Felix Bressart's Greenberg so much wants to play Shylock and never gets a chance. His character plays up the antisemitism of the Nazis a.k.a. “Have I not a Jew eyes?”

TB: Incidentally, that line comes from another Shakespearean play, The Merchant of Venice. It is spoken in Act 3, Scene 1.

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TB: Let's discuss Stanley Ridges' character, shall we?

JL: Stanley Ridges' Professor Alexander Siletsky is not part of the troupe and is, in fact, an “evil” Nazi. Yet he too is acting, disguising himself as a member of the Polish resistance. This tactic doesn't last once Stansilav discovers that he had never heard of Maria Tura, the most famous actress in Poland.

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Thus, the one major non-actor is the one who informs the actress and her fellow actors, so that they can get in to their new “roles.” Joseph later plays Siletsky himself after his sudden death and gets away with it despite much discussion over whether or not his beard and the found corpse's beard are fake. Both beards and mustaches make for plenty of comedy here, with a hilarious later scene involving Joseph searching for his missing “disguise” in a taxi.

TB: To be honest I found some of the disguises a bit overdone. Maybe this sort of monkey business would have worked better in a Marx brothers film, I don't know. But this is where Lubitsch's film loses me a bit, because I think it tries to be almost too clever for its own good. Of course the film wasn't a huge hit when it was released in early '42.

JL: Critics at the time considered this whole production in “such bad taste” and it is understandable why. It was operating against the established mores of the time, which may explain why this later became a cult favorite after the anti-establishment sixties and seventies. For example, a major murder takes place with no real conscious reflection about it. We are forced to accept this as a part of war and characters fighting for greater causes, as many scenes of buildings being bombed and homeless people struggling are presented.

TB: Yes, I'm glad you mentioned those components of the film. Definitely we can see how they ran into trouble with the production code office. And since what plays out on screen is more of a romp than a story designed to arrive at a happy and moral ending, it probably left wartime viewers a bit cold. A lot of Hollywood productions at the time were meant to evoke certain feelings of patriotism and basically generate conditioned responses. But TO BE OR NOT TO BE doesn't necessarily work that way.

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TB: Final thoughts on Lombard?

JL: Lombard's Maria is presented both as a heroine and “that other woman” who not only flirts with Stansilav but is willing to seduce Col. Ehrnardt as well! Ultimately this final gag leads to Bronksi showing up unexpectedly in costume and fooling Ehrnhart that he is the real Hitler despite him not fooling the Polish common folk earlier! Lombard was praised for her performance by critics at the time, but there is little doubt that her wartime work and early death figured into it. Her final role is hardly innocent though.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. TO BE OR NOT TO BE may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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I think it's necessary to understand that To Be or Not to Be was developed and produced before the the world at large knew how diabolical the Nazi regime was, so the comic tone and structure is more understandable than present-day viewers believe it should be. It also builds upon the movie styles of the time, and possibly Lubitsch was trying to put the truth into a cinematic package that audiences would recognize.

I don't think Lubitsch was in doubt about the truth of Nazism - and so he seems to set up two parallel tones: What happens in and around the theater is closer to the customary Lubitsch style - a controlled pace, well defined characters (lovers, fools, petty villains) playing roles and coming to unexpected realizations. In this movie, Lubitsch is running parallel to Hitchcock's frequent use of theatrical settings, and he (intentionally or not) duplicates the shot of the pursued man being trapped on a stage with the pursuers and the spotlight closing in (first seen from AH in The 39 Steps and later in Stage Fright).

The second tone Lubitsch uses is for things outside the theater: the pace is less controlled, the characters are more desperate and unpredictable, the individuals' masks/disguises are constantly in danger of falling away,  the outcome is less certain, the stakes are more deadly. As you noted, at times this is Marx Brothers-style mayhem, but it's also Hitchcock-style intrigue.

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Some of the older movie textbooks, including the Lubitsch biographies stretching back into the 1970s, tend to goof on the production dates. One source I copied for my own personal notes suggested filming done October and November. However I believe the November 6 to December 24th dates to be accurate, considering the sources of the AFI site (and TCM copying their information). Hard to believe that Lombard would die only weeks after the December finish. I have to go back and listen to the Pearl Harbor aired episode of Jack Benny's Jell-O Program (always broadcast on Sunday nights and the Japanese attack occurred that Sunday morning) to see if the movie was mentioned. Its filming and promotion was covered in two or three 1941-42 shows. The December 7th one featured his comic spoof of Spencer Tracy in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".

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Essential: HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943)

Part 1 of 2

TopBilled wrote:

Life is a Lubitsch and then you die. And when you die, like Don Ameche's character does in HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943), you have a conversation with the devil to take stock of what you did during the years you spent on earth. Of course, the goal is to get to heaven, right? So Ameche has to defend his life on some level, in order to be reunited with his wife Martha, played by Gene Tierney, who had predeceased him.

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This is a fun, clever satire on the afterlife, which sparkles under the filmmaker's direction and there are many engaging performances by the top-grade cast. If you've never seen it, you're in for a real treat. Especially because the group of supporting players is basically a who's who of the finest character actors and actresses from the golden age of Hollywood.

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The script has a lot of fine-tuned dialogue and just hearing these fabulous performers deliver these fabulous lines is a lot of fun. The Lubitsch touch, as it is known in the director's films, is light-hearted and a bit tongue-in-cheek. So Lubitsch takes the subject matter and  he depicts heaven and hell-- and sex itself-- in amusing not frightening ways. The magical style in which characters leave their mortality behind and enter into the afterlife is gentle and charming and the death scenes are not at all like we see in other films of the period.

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In the story, Ameche portrays Henry Van Cleve, a shameless Casanova whose adventures are shown in flashback as he tells Satan, and the audience, the things he did during his illustrious lifetime. Though I am quite sure Satan already knew the details. Incidentally, the Spanish title for this film is EL DIABLO DIJO NO, which literally translates as The Devil Said No. I am not sure what the Devil would be objecting to, since in the end, he does let old Henry take the elevator "up" to be reunited with Martha, suggesting Henry does get to go to heaven after all.

As Henry's story unfolds, we are handed a saga that consists of humor, razor sharp intelligence and sentiment. Some of the sentiments depicted are rather shallow and stem from a vapid male character who has to learn the hard way about his wife's true love. As stated, Gene Tierney plays Ameche's love interest, and they share considerable chemistry. The supporting cast includes Charles Coburn as Henry's down-to-earth grandfather; Spring Byington and Louis Calhern as Henry's parents; Marjorie Main and Eugene Pallette as Henry's in-laws; and Laird Cregar as His Excellency the devil.

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Speaking of the devil, Laird Cregar does a good job making that character unusually likable. His Excellency has perfect manners and is friendly and approachable. Not exactly what most people associate with the fires of hell.

The film is based on a play called Birthday by Leslie Bush-Fedeke. During the extended flashbacks we see Henry go from being a ten year old boy, to a 25 year old man who first falls in love with the gal that will become his wife. Then Henry must later deal with his wife's premature death. Basically we see a man spoiled rotten as a child that grows up and learns many things.

It is very much a dialogue driven movie, yet there are some memorable visuals included. Samson Raphaelson's script is sprinkled with dry sarcasm along with some laugh-out-loud moments and absurdities. Lucky for us, the folks at Criterion issued a restored copy of the film, preserving it for generations to come.

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Part 2 of 2

JLewis wrote:

Intriguingly Ernst Lubitsch's debut in Technicolor had its release in the U.S. sandwiched between two great Brit pics opening in the U.K. a few months before and after: Powell & Pressburger's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and Lean & Coward's THIS HAPPY BREED. On the surface, this trio seem to have little in common apart from making great use of Technicolor to highlight the many details of bygone eras, such as the beautifully preserved Victorian décor presented here.

Yet we have a common theme shared that involves characters who live in the same house for many years and maintain a surprisingly stubborn personality that endures across decades (although the family moves out in the end of THIS HAPPY BREED as so many did at wartime). I think these colorful nostalgic trips helped many Yanks and Brits feel a sense of confidence that “we can get through this” in the fight against the Axis.

Just referencing briefly the Blimp film for comparison, Roger Livesley's Clive Wynne-Candy thinks all men are gentlemen at heart but must learn from his German (yes, German) friend (Anton Walbrook) that a new “evil” has taken over Europe and the old games of fair play no longer apply to a far more sinister world full of atrocities galore.

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In HEAVEN CAN WAIT, Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) thinks he is not going to heaven but That Other Place as he meets up with His Excellency after death (and Laird Cregar plays his role as Hades as if he is some top executive at a big art deco business building). Yet the only “sins” Henry ever committed are of the Victorian kind that even Jimmy Carter admitted to in Playboy: he mostly “cheats in his heart”  or so we think...since we are not given concrete evidence that it goes beyond that. His deceased wife is the only one he truly loved.

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By 1943, it was obvious that the world had far greater sins being committed than Henry, Clive or Celia Johnson's mother-of-all-mothers Ethel in THIS HAPPY BREED were fussing over. In fact, “His Excellency” had quite a waiting list for that downward moving elevator as it was.

Not that Henry is 100% squeaky clean and, yes, he is occasionally called into question. His wife Martha (Gene Tierney) does temporarily leave him on their tenth anniversary-- which is also his birthday-- when she suspects that he is carrying on behind her back with showgirls, but the way he and Grandpa (Charles Coburn) retrieve her shows how much he loves her above anybody else.

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By the time of their twenty-fifth anniversary (another birthday of his as he keeps getting older like her), she is long over such jealousy issues with a husband as predictable as him and finds herself laughing at his scorn of their son, Tod Andrews' Jack, romancing a showgirl himself (Helene Reynolds' Peggy Nash). As they recall their past in a specific room of the mansion they are privately together in, the same place where he decided to elope her away from nerdy cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn), she admits that she was never afraid of him but only concerned about why it was taking him so long to come “get” her.

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Again, Henry likes all women...and girls he brought beetles for as a boy as a way of seducing them. Yet he mostly woos verbally and does not touch or insult in a way that the modern #MeToo era would disapprove of. As His Excellency observes: “So far as I can see, you've made them all very happy.” I guess we can compare Henry to the many characters personified by Maurice Chevalier from THE LOVE PARADE through GIGI who thank heaven for little girls who get bigger every day. Although youthful women keep him young, his son does advise him wisely that he is better off dating somebody closer to his own age as he deals with the loneliness after his wife's passing.

Regarding that final nurse attending him, he relates: “and suddenly I was awakened by a caressing touch on my forehead. I opened my eyes and there she was sitting right on the edge of the bed. Nellie Brown, registered nurse. Your Excellency, one look at her and it didn't matter whether she was registered or not. Then she took out a thermometer, and she said, 'Open your mouth.' Who wouldn't for Nellie?”

In many ways, we want more people in our lives like Henry...and Blimp...because they are genuinely honest and caring people. The French maid (Signe Hasso) only “sinfully” introduces the teenage Henry to champagne. Also she gets him out of his shell: “In your papa's time, papa kiss mama and zen marry. But this is 1887! Time of bicycle, the typewriter est arrive, soon everybody speak over ze telephone, and people have new idea of value of kiss. What was bad yesterday is lot of fun today.” Martha gets him interested later because she is lying to her mother on a public telephone, but she ends up a beacon of whole fullness in his eyes.

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Although Henry loves his lovely ladies, he isn't terribly fond of them sporting glasses for some reason. Even Martha is avoiding wearing them late in life, perhaps on purpose. The author of “How to Make Your Husband Happy” is pictured on the back cover as an elderly spectacled matron whom Henry ridicules as Martha plans to buy it in a store. Likewise, the nurse he is eager to get rid of in his final resting bed sports them as well.

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This is a movie all about people who make mountains out of molehills. The parents of Martha in boring Kansas, the Strables, are downright hilarious as played by two of my all-time favorite character supports, Marjorie Main and Eugene Pallette. Although more socially conscious modern viewers may squirm a bit in how the black servants are talked down to (“You talk too much!”), they are quite harmless people at heart, especially in the way they fuss over the outcome of the Katzenjammer Kids in the “funny papers.” Henry's parents Randolph and Bertha (Louis Calhern and Spring Byington) are constantly worried about him but they also spoil him dearly. Grandpa is the one who understands him the best and wishes he could have lived the same kind of life when he was younger.

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Little side note: We get blessed with not one, but two, ex-“Our Gang” stars playing teens here: Dickie Moore and Scotty Beckett (and I later discovered that this was not their only movie shared). Scotty was doing fairly well at the time, mostly at MGM, despite how unhappy his  later years were. I always enjoy seeing a lot of familiar faces in these old flicks at their different ages.

Although the opening and closing scenes set in The Eternal help the Lubitsch spoofing of Victorian views of “sin,” I really did not feel any of these scenes were necessary for a movie that plays well enough as a fictional biographic sketch. For one thing, I found the big “corporate headquarters” too much of a rip-off of earlier comedies of the thirties also spoofing heaven and “that other place” as if they were offices in a high rise business center. More creativity could have been used here.

This is a rather lightweight biographical sketch of a fictional character but he is, no doubt, a composite of real people whom many in 1943 would have known in their own families and there is gentle ridicule of the antiquated way of life, despite how Henry thinks that he is changing with the times. Samson Raphaelson peppers the script with plenty of funny one-liners and whimsy as he did in the earlier Lubitsch classics he worked on. We kinda know what will happen next but are constantly fascinated by all of the characters on display here.

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HEAVEN CAN WAIT may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Very solid review/s. Thanks for selecting HEAVEN CAN WAIT. I think Technicolor adds quite a lot of fun to this movie, which would perhaps seem stagy and tentative without the vividness of the production design. The prospect of eternal damnation needs a little boost to be received as comedy.

I don't know if this is the movie that started the 1940s trend of films dealing with life after death, or the parallel lives of spirits, but it is a reasonable example of that trend - and one of the best to handle it in a comedic vein. (It didn't really start in the 40s, of course: think of DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY or THE GHOST GOES WEST... but obviously WW2 made the theme more relevant to audiences.)  You mentioned  A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, but there are a dozen or more that could be named, including dramas (THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE), comedies (THE CANTERVILLE GHOST, I MARRIED A WITCH, HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, THE BISHOP'S WIFE), musicals (DOWN TO EARTH)... It could be TCM feature, when I start to think about it.

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Incidentally, I'm glad you mentioned THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP - the most unfortunately overlooked work of Powell & Pressburger. It's full of clever details and great performances - especially by Roger Livesey and the great Anton Walbrook. 

THIS HAPPY BREED is also worthy of rewatching, with a very young John Mills and the always impressive Celia Johnson. The use of color is quite evocative of the nostalgia Coward is tracking in this movie - which must be recognized as a parallel telling of his musical play/film CAVALCADE, this time for a middle class British family rather than an upper class clan and their servants, from the end of WW1 through WW2.

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On 5/9/2020 at 11:30 AM, TopBilled said:

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In the story, Ameche portrays Henry Van Cleve, a shameless Casanova whose adventures are shown in flashback as he tells Satan, and the audience, the things he did during his illustrious lifetime. Though I am quite sure Satan already knew the details.

That is so true but Hades/Satan obviously enjoys sitting back and listening to it all "replayed" in detail. This is one movie that actually suggests Down Under is not all that bad of a place to visit. In a  curious way, Laird Cregar plays his role almost like a psychiatrist with Don Ameche on his "couch".

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One curio scene worth adding. Florence Bates makes a memorable, but un-credited, role as some ex striptease artist who appears Down Under. She had met Henry before and flaunts her legs briefly before getting the trap-door trip to fire and brimstone. I am curious as to "why". Was she the one guilty for getting Henry in trouble with his wife ages ago? She is so entertaining and does not come off all that decadent and "sinful". Maybe this was another spoofing on Victorian "morals" making much ado about nothing?

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Essential: CLUNY BROWN (1946)

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JL: CLUNY BROWN may not be one of the meatier Lubitsch soufflé dinners, but it is well seasoned for taste. The story is not much, despite being based on a popular novel that probably had more going on than 99 minutes can cover on screen.

TB: The novel was written by Margery Sharp, who had several of her bestsellers turned into movies. CLUNY BROWN was published in 1944, so it didn't take long for Fox to snap up the rights and put it into production. Sharp was an English author who wrote books for adults, but is more known for her children's books. One of them, THE RESCUERS, would later become a big animated hit for Disney and spawn a sequel. So it's kind of interesting to put Sharp's writing into a broader context when we look at this particular film.

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JL: There is a wonderful atmosphere to the 1938 English setting created on the 20th Century Fox backlot for CLUNY BROWN which, in my opinion, boasts an even better “small town England” than MGM's over at Culver City. The year is significant since Charles Boyer plays a refugee from Czechoslovakia at the time Hitler was creating his own Europe and many Brits were not sure what to make of it, being nervous about a possible war despite going about their day to day routines.

TB: One thing I like about this film is that while the story takes place in the past, it is a not-so-distant past. Yet so much would have happened in the world from '38 to '44/'46, causing audience sensibilities to change in the intervening years. People were wiser after the war. This kind of story allows viewers to look back on how naive they might have been.

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JL: We are blessed with many British Hollywood character actors on camera even though most don't do all that much on screen. These include future Rat-Packer Peter Lawford (usually at MGM at this time), Reginald Owen, that other Reginald...Reginald Gardiner, C. Aubrey Smith, Ernest Cossart and, rounding out the cast, Canadian-born Margaret Bannerman and Irish-born Sara Allgood also playing up their best British accents. Una O'Connor of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN fame is sadly given a role in which she doesn't speak, although she's still memorable as “mummy” to equally British Richard Haydn's Jonathan Wilson.

TB: The reason these character actors and actresses get limited screen time is that they were not personal projects for super producer David Selznick. Selznick of course would have been encouraging the studio and Lubitsch to keep the focus on his future wife, Jennifer Jones. Especially her "love scenes" with Boyer.

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TB: Yes. Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones are the two leads here and, while this feature may not represent their best performances on screen, they are quite lovable in their personalities. At least one review I read stated that they lacked chemistry on screen. Fair enough. However there is no actual “romance” until the final reel and no physical displays of affection until then. Plus, the best relationships begin on a comfortable friendship level anyway and we viewers know these two are a good match in the end.

There could also be the tawdry dialogue impacting the situation here too, for this movie has plenty of talk-talk-talk that is surprisingly graphic for diabolical minds like me with enough imagination.

TB: I have to say that I agree with those who claim Jones lacks chemistry with Boyer. In fact, I think with the exception of William Holden in LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING (1955), Jones lacks chemistry with nearly all her leading men. She's too self-conscious to give any of the love stories in her movies the kind of natural feeling they require. In fact, I'd go so far as to say Jones is the weak link in this film and if they had cast a pro like Claudette Colbert (who previously worked with Boyer in TOVARICH), the results would have been even better.

JL: Many Lubitsch comedies have plenty of spice and this one is no exception. In fact, there is a surprisingly sexual (within Production Code standards) insinuation made in regards to...of all things!...plumbing.

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TB: Oh no. I think I know where you're going with this!

JL: I instantly remembered 7th grade gym class when we embarrassed boys were forced by our teacher to shower together because, in his words, we had nothing to be ashamed of on account of our similar “plumbing systems” (unlike the girls, who had a different “plumbing system”). Twice we see Jennifer Jones' Cluny Brown fix the plumbing here, literally of course, and certain little digs are made here and there in the script, suggesting plenty of wink-wink.

TB: Wink-wink? Oh...you mean, yeah...wink-wink.

JL: Let's start with Pipe Fix #1.

TB: Okay.

JL: Reginald Gardiner's Hilary Ames is subletting the apartment of rich Andrew Carmel (Peter Lawford) when Charles Boyer's Adam Belinski arrives as a new guest just as Hilary is fussing with a clogged sink.

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Cluny arrives unexpectedly because her uncle, the official plumber, couldn't make it. Hilary clearly has no interest in Cluny despite how she rolls up her shirt sleeves and exposes her shapely legs in preparation for “dirty” work, while Adam is both interested in her and in Hilary's overall lack of interest in her.

Later Adam gets her drunk, which may make some modern viewers question his intentions, and when she describes in a playful, sexy way that she feels “chillerpicked," Hilary looks perplexed: “I don't ever recall feeling chillerpicked." This, in turn, prompts Adam to remind him “I'm afraid you never will, my dear Ames. There isn't a chiller in you."

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Hilary is accused of giving a very dull party for Helen Walker's Betty Cream, the love interest of their shared friend Andrew. It is pretty much spelled out that he displays zero interest in women altogether.

TB: You gotta love made up words like "chillerpicked" and a character whose last name is Cream. Anyway, let's go on to Pipe Fix #2, shall we?

JL: Pipe Fix #2. With the stuffy pharmacist she is engaged to, Richard Haydn's Jonathan Wilson, Cluny fixes another clogged sink as he and guests celebrate a very somber birthday celebration for his mother. His response to her, um, hard work: “I wish I hadn't seen what I saw.”

Although he earlier mentions the possibility of having children with her, he clearly has limited interest in the “how” to achieve that goal. She later tells Adam “you know what plumbing does to me. Just can't keep my hands off of it and I didn't last night.” Of course, Jonathan makes it clear that he can't “afford a wife subject to impulses either to pipes or to himself."

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TB: One comment I had read about the original story is that Cluny sort of represents the Unruly Element of British society. She doesn't exactly know her place or where she belongs. She is considered a carefree spirit who doesn't fit into any specific social class. But she begins to understand herself, and her self-worth, in the process of dealing with this group of complacent upper middle class Brits.

JL: There isn't much of a conflict between Jonathan and rival suitor Adam, who realizes early on that Cluny and Jonathan are doomed as a couple and he will eventually get-the-girl in the end. He merely teases Jonathan by opening and closing his shop door to get him to run out in “May I help you?” fashion. Likewise, he finishes a private conversation and then adds one-more-thing-to-discuss in order to get Jonathan instantly hopping back like some puppy retrieving a stick. The basic joke is that Jonathan lives only a mile or two from the place he was born and has little intention of leaving his confined space...and habits.

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Jonathan is a practical, rather than romantic, fellow. When he and Cluny are discussing a painting of his, featuring a lone sheep in a meadow, she feels sorry for the animal being so lonely by itself (i.e. no flock) and pessimistically predicts that it will wind up later as mutton, served on a plate just as she provided the Carmels. He merely responds that the sheep is “serving” England just as everybody, including himself, is serving others.

TB: That's a good point. Despite the silliness of Jones' performance, and the light-airy Lubitsch touch, there is some sort of serious (moral) tone in the story, which I think is there because of Sharp's original writing. They all have to serve one another, because if they do that, then they are serving all of England.

Anything else you want to mention?

JL: The primary men in this show are passive and require strong women to help them make their moves, including Peter Lawford's Andrew who needs both Betty and his mother to do all of the major work getting him to propose to Betty. In contrast, Boyer's Adam has no inhibitions. As he declares to Cluny with no shame to his game: “If I were rich, I would build you the most beautiful mansion with the most exquisite and complicated plumbing. Right in the middle of the most eloquent housewarming party, I would hand you a hammer and say: Ladies and gentlemen, Madame Cluny Belinski is about to put the pipes in their place.”

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TB: Certainly a bit of innuendo there. Wonder if the production code office was feeling too chillerpicked to object.

JL: Lubitsch & Company soon make it obvious that this twosome becomes a threesome in short order without ever mentioning the words “children” or “pregnancy” but demonstrating with the changing titles of Adam's latest book titles that involve a particular bird referenced earlier: the nightingale. (Not quite sure what Adam has against the bird, but he dislikes one being outside his mansion window for some reason.)

Sexual themes aside...a bigger theme that was apparently emphasized in Margery Sharp's novel is the pre-war struggle to “know one's place.” One key scene emphasizes this in the movie adaptation. Because Cluny enters the wealthy Carmel residence with Col. Graham (C. Aubrey Smith), Sir Henry and Lady Alice Carmel (wonderfully played in their small roles by Reginald Owen and Margaret Bannerman) don't realize at first that Cluny is the new servant hired and treat her as a friend of their son's with tea and crumpets.

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When they realize the mistake, the situation suddenly gets awkward for them even though Alice is very polite and allows her to finish eating and drinking before Syrette (Ernest Cossart) shows her the duties. The body language of Jennifer Jones the actress here is quite masterful as she sips her remaining tea with her shoulders held up in submission, suggesting shame and embarrassment.

TB: As I had said in a private message to you, I think you are much kinder about Jones' acting than I am. When I see a scene like that, I can't help but wonder how many times Selznick had her rehearse it with a coach on the set, before she got it right. Again, I don't think she's a very naturalistic actress. Her performance choices often strike me as odd, and when she does something "wonderful" like this in a scene, I doubt that she came up with it on her own.

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JL: Margaret Bannerman's Alice is an interesting character in her own right. Although she is ridiculed to some degree as a stuffy lady of the manor, she actually treats Cluny very well. She motherly, if slightly sternly, tells her to finish her tea and eases her that “nobody did anything wrong” when Cluny gives the false impression that she is a friend of the family. She talks much the same as well to Betty, whom she plans on having as her daughter-in-law, by demanding she stay in bed so they can talk. Again, her tone is equal with both Betty and Cluny despite the former's higher position in the social order.

The whole remembering-your-role theme has its impact on the romantic relationships of these pre-war Brits, but in different ways. The servants Syrette and “Mrs.” Maile (Sara Allgood) are initially shocked at seeing fellow servant Cluny and house-guest Adam leaving the same bedroom and talking in a semi-suggestive tone, but kinda understand this relationship later. After all, they are not lacking feelings and desires themselves.

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TB: Excellent point.

JL: In the end, Adam finally must take charge of Cluny in an effort to prevent her from a life of doom and gloom, especially with Jonathan who will only accept her as the secondary woman in his life and mommy's ways are the law. The first things to fly out of their train window are her apron and servant hat. This eliminates all phobias regarding her “place” in society and makes the happy couple equal partners in every way.

TB: Thanks JLewis. CLUNY BROWN may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Essential: THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM (1954)

TB: This weekend and next weekend our focus shifts to war films in honor of Memorial Day. However, we've decided to put a little spin on it, and concentrated on two seldom-discussed British war flicks. Both were made in the mid-1950s.

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Our first selection has a strong cast, including Michael Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde and Bonar Colleano. It's about 90 minutes in length, and much of it was shot inside a British studio...not on location. But it's still worth looking at and is currently on YouTube.

JL: Have not heard much of this one, although ABOVE US THE WAVES (which we get to next) was already familiar to me since it is often referenced in the movie texts. Apparently United Artists successfully distributed it on this side of the Atlantic on account of its modest star power: Michael Redgrave (big name star), Dirk Bogarde (rising star), Anthony Steel (at least his face looks familiar) and Nigel Patrick...well, we know him (from the previous reviewed SAPPHIRE).

TB: Yes. They're all at various stages in their careers. Redgrave was the most successful at this point. He'd already established himself in British cinema and had already gone to Hollywood to make a few American films before returning to London. We should also note that his wife, actress Rachel Kempson, plays his wife in this film, like she occasionally did in his pictures.

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JL: THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM is filmed in black and white on account of the newsreel and documentary footage incorporated. Also on account of its modest special effects work (including some noticeable fringing around the faces against ocean scenes, pre “sodium vapor process,” that is less obvious than it would be in color), this could be labeled a B-budget version of IN WHICH WE SERVE with its stranded-soldiers-rescue storyline even though a plane is involved this time.

A Lockheed Hudson aircraft is damaged by German attack in the North Sea and the four escapees float about in their rubber dinghy but are unable to send a mayday alert to headquarters. We cross edit from them to shots of the RAF Air Sea Rescue investigating their disappearance.

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These scenes showcase Anthony Steel's Officer Treherne and Nigel Patrick's Sgt. Singsby, among others. Much of the entertainment comes from watching devoted men efficiently working together as a well-oiled machine in saving “the blokes.”

In addition, there is also some light comedy involving multiple characters including James Kenny as a neurotic Corporal Skinner, Ian Whittaker as bumbling Milliken, George Rose's Tebbitt (imdb.com quotes his line of “Self-heating soup? I never touch it. Don't trust those chemicals.”) and a rather bossy Sydney Tafler as Corporal Robb.

TB: I should mention that Tafler was the brother-in-law of writer-director Lewis Gilbert. Gilbert used Tafler in his other films, notably in REACH FOR THE SKY (1956), which was made two years later.

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What did you think of Whittaker's comic relief character, Milliken?

JL: Personally I find the humorous touches more intrusive than entertaining since the major focus here really should be on the fairly accurate historically presentation of material not often covered on screen.

TB: It's interesting how you mention the comic elements not working. I had read another review of this film after I finished re-watching it recently, and the other reviewer said basically the same thing. That the comedy feels out of place. I assume the Milliken character was included for variety and to lighten a film with such serious subject matter. Some scenes with the character do not work, I agree...particularly the part where he's cooking and sets the boat on fire. But his presence is marginal and mostly inconsequential.

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JL: Back to the missing men hoping to get rescued. Dirk Bogarde plays Sgt. Mackay and Michael Redgrave is Commodore Waltby, although I find Bonar Colleano (whom we saw before in SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE) as Kirby the most entertaining. In the beginning of their escape, he goes through their rations in their cramped quarters and makes note of the “delicate situation” of toilet paper, which looks like nothing more than a wad of Kleenex.

TB: I agree that Bonar Colleano does a splendid job. Colleano was an American stage and screen actor who found success acting in Britain. As I watched his performance, I couldn't help but think that he and Michael Balfour, who also appears in this film (in a minor role) would be in a fatal car crash just four years later. Colleano died in the accident, while Balfour recovered, with nearly a hundred stitches.

Anyway, back to our story...

JL: The other guy in the dinghy, Officer Harding, is played by a less talkative Jack Watling. When he is sleeping, Mackay explains his relationship with “been together for two years” Harding to Watkins in a surprisingly romantic manner. Not that we should jump to conclusions here since this is Dirk Bogarde in his pre-VICTIM period and, after all, they are merely comrades in arms. Nonetheless he is very quick to bark back at the very heterosexual Kirby “That is all you ever think about, isn't it? Girls and beer and going to the pictures?” as if he would be content with none of these as long as he still has his bro-buddy.

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TB: Of course, in real life, Bogarde was very closeted and told people that his long-time partner Tony Forwood was like a brother. One can only speculate what it must have been like for Bogarde when he first read the script and realized he could utter such lines with his character in this movie, like you said, several years before he'd make VICTIM.

JL: Kirby is not just into “girls” but has one specific one, played by Gudrun Ure in a short scene asking for any good news of his rescue. It seems that having a wife or a special girlfriend is what gets you through a war. We get two more wives questioning for information at a train station, including Mrs. Waltby. This I found quite interesting since Watkins adrift specifically tells Mackay that he is not fond of trains.

There is so much discussion about women among the guys hanging out together, especially among the rescue teams as they are sleeping and eating together wartime style, that even they themselves get tired of it on occasion. One even threatens to throw another overboard if he keeps talking about “that silly stupid wife" of his.

TB: Interesting. Though I think we have to realize that the men have little else to discuss, and probably do have their loved ones on their mind. One of them becomes a father at the end of the movie.

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JL: There is a redundant side-story involving some all-important wartime document in a briefcase that Watby carries. “I've got to get this case back to England even if we all die." In the end, we never find out its importance and ultimately don't care.

The briefcase comes into play in a rather tense scene when Mackay almost threatens mass suicide because he feels so depressed at sea. This is a very dark moment that Borgarde plays rather well in a bit of method acting.

TB: I'm glad you mentioned this subplot. I see it more as a McGuffin of sorts. And I think it was included in the film to show that these men are worth rescuing. That by saving them, it can potentially save more people from the Germans. We don't really need to know what's contained in the documents Redgrave's character is carrying with him. After all, it's classified information. But we know that when he delivers the papers in the briefcase, it will be a patriotic and heroic act.

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Regarding Bogarde's performance, I concur that he's tapping into some Method-style theatrics in the dinghy. And quite frankly, I found his performance to be a bit overdone compared to Redgrave's more naturalistic style. But of course, Bogarde manages to convey the torment his character is experiencing, which the audience needs to see.

JL: One semi-flaw is the rather limited musical score, which starts out in a grand Max Steiner-ish sweep in the early scenes but then mostly disappears from the soundtrack except in little doses. Then again, that probably makes it ahead of its time since most modern day films and TV shows are much more limited in their music, focusing like this one on dialogue and sound effects more in order to better represent everyday life.

TB: It's probably because they had a limited budget, or a compressed post-production schedule and needed to deliver the film to exhibitors on time. The background music is indeed rather sparse. I was trying to think if there was much background music in Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT, which this film sort of reminds me of, to some extent.

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JL: Muir Mathieson conducts compositions by Malcolm Arnold for the London Philharmonic here; Mathieson being one of the British cinema's hardest workers in both features and shorts during the forties and fifties and would also work on ABOVE US THE WAVES. That one is much more “slushy” in comparison and actually works a bit better for me in drawing an emotional connection with the characters.

There is one very effective scene worth mentioning here: the dinghy narrowly bypasses a Nazi sea mine (ball-like bomb) floating in the water as Kirby ominously states “Well...if anybody wants to pick us up now, they will have plenty of fun” and this is where the music comes out of nowhere to emphasize the importance of their dangerous situation.

TB: As I said the use of music is sparse, but is still included, where absolutely necessary.

JL: Since there are only a few suspenseful scenes and one distantly shot battle in the finale, I wonder if this would have worked better as a docu-drama “reenacting a true case” than as a fictionalized war flick, expected by viewers to be more action-packed. Regardless, the cast and director Lewis Gilbert handle the material with great professionalism even if we hear plenty of  “Are you alright?” and “We did it! We bloody well did it!” I do enjoy seeing these characters succeed through their struggles.

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TB: I'm glad you enjoyed the film. I should tell our readers that we had a series of private messages about this picture, after I had rewatched it. Mainly because I wasn't sure it was dramatically exciting enough to be touted as an Essential. But fortunately, Jlewis convinced me that it is worthwhile and should still be covered here.

JL: Overall I disagree with some comments on imdb.com that it is “dull” although I do agree that the somewhat modest scale of its production involves a few too many rear projection shots, mostly in the scenes with the four adrift, that seem out of place with the more realistic (possibly culled) footage of the military in action. Obviously those raised strictly in the post-1990s cgi special effects era would find this oldie a bit too prehistoric for their tastes.

Trivial note for a final scene: the nickname for cigarettes in British lingo is now considered an offensive term for gay men.

TB: I was wondering if you were going to mention that! It's definitely not included in the film for dramatic irony, given Bogarde's real-life sexuality. It's an inoffensive British slang for cigarettes that is still used today. Recently, I watched an episode of the British soap EastEnders where a female chain smoking character asked someone for a f*g, and the American viewer in me did a double take until I realized that the context of that word in the U.K. is different than it is here.

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Essential: ABOVE US THE WAVES (1955)

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TB: This week was a rather busy one for me, so I want to thank Jlewis who picked up the slack and reviewed our second British war flick. 

While reading the comments that follow, I couldn't help but think of the classic 20th Century Fox production THE FROGMEN (1951) which also features considerable underwater heroics.

***

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JL: With the familiar J. Arthur Rank muscleman gonging away before the opening credits, we can expect somewhat bigger budgeted fare here compared to THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM, with Ralph Thomas as director. (Both films were shot in 1954, although this one was released the following year with Republic Pictures handling U.S. distribution for a change of pace.)

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John Mills is the star attraction as Fraser, the Commander you want to lead you since he really tries to get to know each serviceman in his line-up, although maybe he can be a bit too friendly and personal about your home life. At least he is not the vulgar loud mouth sergeant we come to expect in so many American war films.

There is a fairly realistic, you-are-there feel early on as we see the Royal Navy men in training, not unlike what was often seen in the many Rank and Gaumont-British documentary shorts that would have been shown along side of this.

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Pity this is not in color, although there is wonderful outdoor and underwater cinematography reminding me of later James Bond films such as THUNDERBALL. Once again, the great Muir Mathieson conducts the Philharmonic, this time with composer Arthur Benjamin and no holding back. The quite jolly music makes you want to join these fellows diving and doing their maneuvers.

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Fraser is trying to convince Admiral Ryder, played in typical “chip chip cheerio” fashion by well-bearded James Robertson Joyce, that “frogmen” or “human torpedoes” can succeed against the German battleship Tirpitz. We follow a test group of men in their journey into Norway through trial and error, not all underwater but also also traveling through Nazi occupied territory on foot. Most of them make a final escape through Sweden and get back home so Ryder can commission a bigger ambush involving a trio of submarines, labeled X1, 2 and 3.

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As with the previous film, we also see Nazi aquatic mines that the submarines must bypass and I suspect both films drew from similar or same vintage footage here for a few shots. Impressive here is how one man must push one away from his ship...literally with his foot. Again, the music is very forceful here, in direct contrast to THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM which only brings in the music when it is absolutely necessary to enhance the suspense.

In our previous film, the fellows together talk a lot about the “missus.” In this one, most of the talk is about food. We get a promise between two that they will indulge in steak and eggs when they get back home. Not that promises are easy to keep in the deadly adventure of war. When approaching the Tirpitz, one even smells sauerkraut.

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In regards to women, John Gregson as “Your Uncle” Alec Duffy tells Donald Sinden's Tom Corbett of his disastrous three year marriage and apparently needs a break from it for a while. Tom still seems optimistic despite he too being single and woman-free. Unfortunately we all know the Golden Rule of 1950s war films: it is important to have a “missus” in order to survive a war. Even Fraser must remind Abercrombie (James Kenney, who apparently hopped on to this film right after THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM) to be more careful with his foolish heroics because lives are at stake, especially ones like Ramsey (William Russell) who have “a wife and children."

Among other faces present: Micheal Medwin, who passed away only recently at 96, has some slightly humorous moments as Stewart Smart. I think Lee Patterson was cast as Cox based on his blond pretty boy looks, sporting his turtle neck sweater better than his comrades as if he was Lana Turner.

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I did find myself dozing off during the lengthy submarine ambushes, despite the drama of one getting seriously damaged with its crew bravely staying aboard so that they don't give away any unwanted signals to the enemy. I guess the problem was lack of sleep at the time of viewing. Plus a little too much dialogue at this stage of the suspense, all set in a rather predictable submarine crowded setting.

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Once we got back to more underwater heroics, I woke up again, being that this is the primary selling point of this action feature. When two crews get captured by the Germans, there is plenty of shouting at them that justifiably keeps you the viewer on edge like the prisoners of war worrying about their fate.

Yet the captain (Otto Edwuard Hasse) admires them enough to supply them with blankets and schnapps (yes, a great drink satisfies as much as great food). The climax invites some comparison to the more famous THE AFRICAN QUEEN (set in a previous war with Germany) involving an unpredictable explosion.

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I won't spoil the ending but it is a sad one that reminds us of the price of war. We get John Mills' face looking out and then looking back at his exhausted crew, backed on the soundtrack by foreboding violins that soon lead to one final outburst of orchestration gusto over our “filmed at Pinewood Studios” end credit.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. ABOVE US THE WAVES may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Our theme this month:

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Westerns where Stanwyck plays a strong woman leading men, dressed like a man

June 6: THE FURIES (1950) A nice Criterion print is on YouTube, free.

June 13: CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA (1954) A good Technicolor print is on DailyMotion, free. It's also on Amazon Prime if you have a subscription.

June 20: THE MAVERICK QUEEN (1956) An excellent print is on YouTube, free.

June 27: FORTY GUNS (1957). Also an excellent print on YouTube, free.

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Essential: THE FURIES (1950)

TB: This month we're doing a different sort theme: Westerns where Stanwyck plays a strong woman leading men, dressed like a man.

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We haven't done a month on Barbara Stanwyck yet. Plus these westerns have a lot to say about male-female relationships as well as white-native relationships. Also, we're going to look at films in the genre that Stanwyck made in the 1950s, each one at a different studio.

In some of these pictures Stanwyck's character has major daddy issues. Especially in THE FURIES which we look at this week and in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA, which we will get to next week. It certainly defines her role as the story plays out.

Despite the contrivances of the plot, we can see how the producers and costumers try to feminize her characters. But at various points do they just let her play the role as a "man." For instance, in CATTLE QUEEN, she only appears in one dress if I recall, it's a black dress, when she goes to town and it is hardly demure looking or womanly. For most of the action, she's in pants. I think that when she wears the dress, she is still wearing boots. No high heels. No frilly hair. Not much makeup, if any. 

Related to this presentation of Stanwyck's western characters is the way her character's relationships with the men might be sexual but more often than not, she is just interacting with them like "one of the boys." Part of the "appeal" of watching her portray these tough western women and discussing these films is how a Stanwyck western performance can be read subversively. Is she ultimately playing lesbian roles?

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Let's get things started with THE FURIES...

JL: This is most famous as Walter Huston's final film and there is no indication that he is suffering from anything health-wise since he is in great bombastic form. Here he's T.C. Jeffords, the wealthiest cattle ranch owner of the 1870s, owner of The Furies property and, after the passing of his wife, he is still blessed with two spoiled brats, Vance (Barbara Stanwyck ) who has a touch of Scarlet O'Hara in her (“if you know what you want, why waste time?”) and Clay (John Bromfield), who pretty much disappears from screen once he gets married so we can focus on the bigger stars at hand battling it out.

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This is one of the great daddy-daughter rivalry melodramas. T.C. may be pompous and domineering, paying off his debts with “TC” notes and sporting a Napoleon bust in his office, but he can't always have it his own way as long as he has a daughter around. She even forces him to help himself when he gets stuck in quicksand!

TB: Exactly. So right away, we see how tough Stanwyck is as Vance. Also, she is called Vance, a masculine name, and not something dainty and feminine like Vanna. She's basically a tomboy, a tough-as-nails offspring. And with her around barking orders, why would brother Clay be needed.

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JL: Vance and T.C. are a mighty tight bond, but subject to outside influences that can separate them. Vance herself woos Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), while also maintaining a strong, if secretive, friendship with Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland)...and both of these men feel parts of The Furies land are rightfully theirs. The romance with Rip seems doomed at first because daddy is able to show him up in front of his daughter as the money-grubbing gambler that he is, accepting a pay-out over marrying her. (Ironically he does not spend it as we later discover.)

As Juan tells her in confidence, “Maybe in his time, he has been hungry. To a hungry man, money is always important.” Juan is himself basically the male "Spanglish" accented variation of Vance here, being equally in love with mommie dearest (the wonderfully trigger happy and rock tossing Blanche Yurka) who successfully severs the TC/Vance relationship after her own is severed by TC.

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TB: I'm glad you mentioned Juan being a mirror version of Vance. In this regard, we are getting into how the film draws parallels between the races and cultures depicted in the core families. One has to wonder what it would have been like if the writing went in a different direction and the story had instead focused on Juan being T.C's illegitimate son, with Vance having to deal with that. But of course that might upstage T.C.'s relationship with Vance.

JL: These relationships are about the balancing of powers. After losing Rip (temporarily, since he re-enters the picture later), Vance has to take on daddy's romantic “interest." Judith Anderson's Flo Burnett steps off the coach and quips “I hope I shan't be too much bother.” Vance responds: “You won't be. No bother at all. We have guests coming all the time.”

TB: And guests going all the time, too!

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JL: Much of the fun in this movie comes from the dialogue in Charles Schnee's script, which is as double-sided as anything we hear in a 1980s prime-time soap of Dallas or Dynasty proportions. There is even plenty of subliminal sex talk too. For instance, Rip is flipping his cards as Vance comments “sometimes I think those are the only women that are in you to love.” His response: “Why not? They're new and they're smooth to touch. They're exciting and they're honest. When they're against you, they don't make you think they're for you. When they're for you, they bring you money.”

Vance: “Too bad they've got two heads.” Later, just before the two are reunited at his big bank, Vance confronts his “secretary” Dallas Hart (Myrna Dell) who introduces herself by saying, in a slightly condescending tone to imply she is younger and sexier material than Vance, “I'm new in town, honey." In typical Stanwyck fashion, we get the acidic reply of “Honey, you wouldn't be new anyplace.”

TB: Yes, those are great lines. And the way Stanwyck delivers this sort of dialogue is a lot of fun to watch.

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JL: One flaw of this film is that the dialogue sometimes gets too witty for its own good, trying too hard to milk Stanwyck and Houston's talents for quick delivery, and detracts from the heavy seriousness that Anthony Mann's direction and especially Victor Milner's cinematography seem to be striving for in a tale about revenge, death and disfigurement.

TB: Good point. I think this is a perfect example of a script being written before the director was assigned to the project. Or that the director did not really sit down with the writers, like Hitchcock would have done, to fine tune it to so that the dialogue would suit the director's vision and approach with the material. So we get two types of authors-- the screenwriter versus the auteur, instead of them working in tandem.

JL: At times, I felt there were two separate movies competing with each other. In regards to the camera work, there are some great scenes that may be too "arty" for their own good but still quite effective.

TB: Yes. This is where the cinematography is almost on a different level than the direction and script.

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JL: I particularly like the deep focus shots, including one of Vance observing Juan with his mother at a distance as if she notices the similar relationship going on, and the film noir-ish silhouette scenes that often involve cacti lit from behind, exposing them individually in night scenes to suggest a "prickly" environment and its denizens. On the plus side, Franz Waxman's music does tie some of the loose strings together, especially in the scene with TC wrestling a steer to prove he is still “king” of The Furies.

TB: The wrestling scene sort of ties back to Vance as a more masculine character. Daddy is showing her how things are really done here in the old west. If Vance had a chance to wrestle a steer and prove her worth to T.C. and the others in a similar way she would. There is no doubt that after T.C. is gone from this world, Vance should be the new "king" not Clay, not Rip, not anyone else.

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JL: The most shocking moment (at least then for moviegoers) is the scissor throw involving Vance and Florence, causing the latter to lose her beauty (and Judith Anderson cleans up pretty well when introduced as a very classy middle-aged lady with high class connections in Washington DC).

TB: Yes, to me this is the most pivotal scene in the entire picture. This is an illustration of Vance's great fury.

JL: In a way, this could symbolically be viewed as some sort of Freudian male sex act like Norman Bates' knife in PSYCHO. I am curious as to what happens to Flo after TC is out of the picture, but the script leaves certain details unanswered for viewers like me to speculate on.

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The primary purpose of this major event mid-way is to pit daddy and daughter in war with each other and prompt the former to hang Juan after Vance sides with him in a battle between forces. “It is me you should have hung because now I hate you in a way I didn't know a woman could hate!” In turn, Juan's mother seeks her own revenge in our climax in the end, but not until daddy and daughter are reunited.

TB: It does get somewhat soapy in spots. I think some of the intensely melodramatic moments are a bit too much, and the story is almost too ambitious. The heart of the story is really the doomed relationship between father and daughter, which is even more tragic because we know how much Vance strives to be a mini-T.C.

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JL: Ultimately, Vance swindles daddy out of all of his TC “notes” and takes full control of the ranch. The story gets a little nebulous on to the specifics of “how” she does it, but there are some delightful montages of her traveling from bank to bank throughout the southwest and ending up with Rip helping her out at the all important Anaheim bank. She succeeds with plenty of charm with both the owner and his wife, Mrs. Anaheim (Beulah Bondi).

TB: It's interesting that the casting of this picture includes so many Hollywood lesbians. Judith Anderson, Blanche Yurka and Beulah Bondi were all supposedly gay. And Stanwyck herself was rumored to be a closeted lesbian. So to have Stanwyck interacting with these women at various intervals in the picture, we get an added dimension. I am sure the casting of this picture is not accidental and done by Mann to suggest other meaning.

JL: Ironically the film (in its writing) caters to the new post-war mentality of Rosie the Riveter returning to the kitchen and nursery; and it adapts this logic to the 19th century story.

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After we modern viewers enjoy seeing Stanwyck's Vance succeed so successfully on her own against daddy and men in general, we get a very compact ending with dull-as-dishwater Wendell Corey's Rip saying that he will make her “my” wife and talk about his son taking over the ranch later. Had this been made in more recent decades, she would have been the one in control in the end, just as she always was in control of daddy.

TB: Exactly, the premise is flipped over on itself in the end, to appease the production code office probably and ensure profitability with conservative moviegoers. It's a bit disappointing that they've done so much to suggest ways in which Vance Jeffords is not your average typical female, for it all to be undermined at the end like this.

JL: Speaking of daddy, it is fitting that our last scene with Walter Houston on screen shows him dying in grace, as he no doubt did off-screen three months after filming ended. T.C. says: “There will never be another like me.” I quite agree.

TB: And there will never be another like Vance either.

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THE FURIES may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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You and I have different sets of eyes looking at these, but it should make the conversation lively. When I think of possible lesbian themes in connection with Stanwyck, obviously WALK ON THE WILD SIDE first comes to my mind since it is all spelled out there without any squinting required. As to whether or not she did anything interesting off screen, you would have to ask the late great Scotty Bowers. She did insist that Robert Taylor was the love of her life even though they couldn't stay married. Obviously she was comfortable with LGBT performers regardless, despite expressing great frustration on millions of TV screens in 1983 wooing Richard Chamberlain.

You have some interesting points addressed above, but I still kinda feel that all of these westerns are overly heterosexist without any signs of same sex interest anywhere in the vicinity, not even among minor unmarried characters like Juan in THE FURIES (a.k.a. he loves Vance and Mommy just as Vance loves Rip and Daddy). It is, however, interesting how three of these titles end with a man taking charge of her in the end and she showing interest in settling down to be a wife and mother (and she first must lose her brother, whom she "mothered" since birth, in FORTY GUNS before going after the male lead in the finale).  THE MAVERICK QUEEN differs only slightly from the others in that she doesn't wind up with the man of her dreams. Yet she tries awfully hard. Obviously it is because she is not a  "virgin" like Mary Murphy's wholesome Lucy Lee, which I am sure many fifties audiences favored for the male hero over her.

What I do find most fascinating about the clothing is not so much the masculinity aspect, since we see Joan Crawford, Doris Day and other actresses of this era also wearing similar get-ups, but that they reflect 1949-57 more than 1881-1900. Yes, some women out west did wear trousers for dirty work back then, although I doubt they were the designer kind we often see here. It does make all four films feel dated in a way, but FORTY GUNS does work harder than the others in matching period details with some impressive Victorian Age dresses on her. Of course, she must also sport the more 50s-ish white blouse and black pants, but I will point out later how very interesting that scene was displaying her character's dark/light personality.

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1 hour ago, Jlewis said:

You and I have different sets of eyes looking at these, but it should make the conversation lively. When I think of possible lesbian themes in connection with Stanwyck, obviously WALK ON THE WILD SIDE first comes to my mind since it is all spelled out there without any squinting required. As to whether or not she did anything interesting off screen, you would have to ask the late great Scotty Bowers. She did insist that Robert Taylor was the love of her life even though they couldn't stay married. Obviously she was comfortable with LGBT performers regardless, despite expressing great frustration on millions of TV screens in 1983 wooing Richard Chamberlain.

You have some interesting points addressed above, but I still kinda feel that all of these westerns are overly heterosexist without any signs of same sex interest anywhere in the vicinity, not even among minor unmarried characters like Juan in THE FURIES (a.k.a. he loves Vance and Mommy just as Vance loves Rip and Daddy). It is, however, interesting how three of these titles end with a man taking charge of her in the end and she showing interest in settling down to be a wife and mother (and she first must lose her brother, whom she "mothered" since birth, in FORTY GUNS before going after the male lead in the finale).  THE MAVERICK QUEEN differs only slightly from the others in that she doesn't wind up with the man of her dreams. Yet she tries awfully hard. Obviously it is because she is not a  "virgin" like Mary Murphy's wholesome Lucy Lee, which I am sure many fifties audiences favored for the male hero over her.

What I do find most fascinating about the clothing is not so much the masculinity aspect, since we see Joan Crawford, Doris Day and other actresses of this era also wearing similar get-ups, but that they reflect 1949-57 more than 1881-1900. Yes, some women out west did wear trousers for dirty work back then, although I doubt they were the designer kind we often see here. It does make all four films feel dated in a way, but FORTY GUNS does work harder than the others in matching period details with some impressive Victorian Age dresses on her. Of course, she must also sport the more 50s-ish white blouse and black pants, but I will point out later how very interesting that scene was displaying her character's dark/light personality.

It seems like you are expecting LGBTQ themes to be explicitly spelled out. But a movie from the Truman era or the Eisenhower era, especially in a genre as traditional as the western, is not going to do that.

As for Scotty Bowers, he often claimed to know about stars' sex lives which was just absurd. Unless he happened to be in the bedroom with those people, he'd never know for sure, would he? That's why I said Stanwyck was rumored to be lesbian.

In the review for THE FURIES, I did address how they made Vance more womanly at the end, or at least willing to play a subservient wifely role to Rip. However, I don't think it's very believable given everything we're told and shown about her earlier in the movie. She's a mini-T.C. She is not just going to relinquish control of the ranch.

I agree that we are left wondering what's to become of Judith Anderson's character after the scarring. I would imagine that she'd stick around to make things unpleasant for Vance, even after T.C. goes to the great round-up in the sky.

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