Saturday, October 11, 2014


Year 6, Day 281 - 10/8/14 - Movie #1,872

BEFORE: Wrapping up the Ingrid Bergman chain, this is the last film I'll watch for a couple of days because I've got New York Comic Con starting up tomorrow.  Since I need to be there early to open the booth and I'm usually the last one to leave the booth, that doesn't leave me much time for staying up late to watch movies.

THE PLOT:  Years after her aunt was murdered in her home, a young woman moves back into the house with her new husband. However, he has a secret that he will do anything to protect, even if it means driving his wife insane.

AFTER: I did watch this one on Wednesday, even though it took me until Saturday night to post this.  The long hours of Comic-Con got in the way of the posting.  I formulated opinions about this film, then got much too busy to express them.  Skipping a few days was always part of the plan however, I'll watch my next film on Sunday night after the convention is over (except for Monday's load-out, of course).  

I felt like this might be the most Hitchcock-like film that was not directed by Hitchcock himself.  The unsolved murder, one spouse driving the other one crazy, the audience suspecting a character of malfeasance long before the film finds a way to confirm it.  Oh, and the police who are mostly incompetent, until an upstart detective has some inside knowledge that the other people who work at Scotland Yard couldn't hope to guess at, so only he can see the big picture and solve the crime.  No one else seems to be aware that a crime is even taking place.  

Also starring Charles Boyer (last seen in "How to Steal a Million"), Joseph Cotten (last seen in "Under Capricorn"), Dame May Whitty (last seen in "Suspicion"), Angela Lansbury (last seen in "Mr. Popper's Penguins").

RATING: 6 out of 10 opera lessons

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Anastasia (1956)

Year 6, Day 280 - 10/7/14 - Movie #1,871

BEFORE: Ingrid Bergman carries over from "For Whom the Bell Tolls", and so does Akim Tamiroff.  Hmm, I'd never heard of Akim Tamiroff before yesterday, and now I've seen him in two films.  Weird.

THE PLOT: An opportunistic Russian businessman tries to pass a mysterious impostor as the Grand Duchess Anastasia. But she is so convincing in her performance that even the biggest skeptics believe her.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Anastasia" (1997) (Movie #1,111)

AFTER: Well, at least Bergman's playing Russian in this one, or faux Russian, which means she could be any nationality, and that makes it a lot easier to accept her accent - I just couldn't buy her playing a Spanish woman.  Hollywood seems to have a shortcut in casting foreign actors to play foreign roles, and the exact nationalities don't seem to matter very much.  As long as they sound foreign, that'll do.  I think that really sells the American movie-going public quite short.  

Take Yul Brynner, who's also seen here playing a Russian (I think) - but he was most famous for playing the King of Siam (now called Thailand) - hey, as long as he seems vaguely Asian, close enough.  OK, so he's a Russian general who finds an amnesiac woman who looks enough like the allegedly-lost-but-probably-killed daughter of Czar Nicholas II to claim her inheritance.  Hey, weren't we just there last week as the Russian aristocracy crumbled, as seen in "Doctor Zhivago"?  

But this is set years later, when Anastasia would have been an adult, assuming she survived the purge (she didn't) but with enough coaching, this lost soul can be instructed to answer the proper questions, to learn enough about Anastasia's life that even she is no longer sure who she really is.  Which memories are real, and which are the ones she's been taught?  

As with the 1997 animated film on the same subject, we are led to believe that this amnesiac might possibly, somehow, impossibly, be the real deal - in the end if the Dowager Empress believes, why shouldn't we?  But the ending sort of feels like a cop-out, since it doesn't take a firm stand on her identity - so we can choose to believe it if we want.  Sorry, I say you've got to pick a horse here.

I think this stands now as sort of a remnant of a time, before DNA testing, when it was rather hard to prove someone's identity, and by extension easier for someone to pretend to be someone else.  This Anastasia pretender didn't even have to answer three security questions, like her first pet's name, in order to stake her claim.

Also starring Yul Brynner (last seen in "Futureworld"), Helen Hayes (last seen in "Airport"), Martita Hunt, Ivan Desny.

RATING: 4 out of 10 grand balls

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Year 6, Day 279 - 10/6/14 - Movie #1,870

BEFORE:  Perhaps I screwed up because I watched the Rock Hudson version of "A Farewell to Arms" - apparently there was an earlier version starring Gary Cooper, and that would have made linking to tonight's film so much easier.  Gary Cooper was a man's man, just like Hemingway was.  Reportedly Rock Hudson was also a "man's man", but in a very different way.

As it stands now, Oskar Homolka links to Gary Cooper through a film called "Ball of Fire". 

THE PLOT:  During the Spanish Civil War, an American allied with the Republicans finds romance during a desperate mission to blow up a strategically important bridge.

AFTER: Once again, the main character of a Hemingway story seems to be a stand-in for Hemingway himself.  Though Hemingway reported on the Spanish Civil War, the character of Robert Jordan serves as an adviser to the Spanish Republicans.  Which they apparently needed, he seems to be the only one who knows how to wire dynamite to explode, and the only one who knows which end of the gun to point at one's enemies.  

The suggestion is that the Spanish Civil War was the precursor to World War II - that it was a similar battle for democracy and against tyranny.  But's it's a little hard to believe that a rogue American would get himself to Spain and put himself at risk fighting a war in another country - how does it benefit him?  I have a feeling that the character may have misunderstood the term "Republicans" - in Spain this probably meant people who were fighting to form a republic, and in America the term was just a political party for rich business people who believed in smaller, less influential government.  I bet when "Roberto" found out these rebels were poor as dirt he regretted his life choices.

While Hemingway fell in love with writer Martha Gellhorn while in Spain, Robert Jordan falls for one of the rebels, Maria.  Who was very unfortunately played by a Swedish actress who doesn't look or sound Spanish.  You might think that her blonde hair and Swedish accent would have marked her as some kind of spy right off.  

Anyway, Robert brings his expertise in firing machine guns and wiring bombs to the task of blowing up a bridge - it seems there's always a bridge to blow up in these things, right?  Like in "Force 10 From Navarone"...  He also has to sort through the talents and abilities of the Spanish gypsies, and also figure out if any of them are traitorous.  

But it takes a LONG time to get to the explodey parts.  There's plenty of time for romance, another Hemingway go-to.  Hey, he always fell in love in war zones, why shouldn't his characters?  But forcing a war story and a love story together like this still creates something of a disconnect.  If Jordan were really a professional soldier, you'd think he be more focused on the task at hand.

It seems Hemingway was always in one danger zone or another - if he weren't a journalist, I'd wonder if he wasn't some kind of trouble-seeker at heart.  Me, I'm gearing up for my bi-annual Battle of Comic-Con, one I've fought many times before.  That's about as close as I get to being a soldier, being concerned with my supplies, preparing for a 4-day siege against an army of geeky customers.

Also starring Ingrid Bergman (last seen in "Under Capricorn"), Akim Tamiroff, Katina Paxinou, Vladimir Sokoloff, Arturo de Cordova, Joseph Calleia.

RATING: 3 out of 10 hand grenades

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Farewell to Arms (1957)

Year 6, Day 278 - 10/5/14 - Movie #1,869

BEFORE:  The Hemingway chain rolls on, just one more after tonight's film.  Linking from "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", Gregory Peck was also in "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" with Jennifer Jones (last seen in "The Towering Inferno").

THE PLOT:  The story of an affair between an English nurse an an American soldier on the Italian front during World War I.

AFTER: I'm jumping back in time a little bit tonight, from 1950's Africa to World War I Italy.  Let's see, check the Hemingway bio - yep, he was an ambulance driver in Northern Italy in 1918, and he was wounded in action, just like the main character in tonight's story.  And Ernie fell in love with a Red Cross nurse - however in real life after Hemingway moved back to the U.S., she got engaged to an Italian officer.  According to his biographer, this affected Hemingway so deeply, in all future relationships he made sure to leave his wife or girlfriend before she could leave him.

But in the book they (Frederick Henry and Catherine Barkley) stay together during his recovery, and then Frederick gets mistaken for a traiter and deserts the Italian army - he finds Catherine and they escape to neutral Switzerland and they pose as tourists while she prepares to deliver their child, but complications with the pregnancy ensue.  

One has to wonder if Hemingway's imagination ran wild here, and if Frederick was a stand-in for himself, if he was wishing ill will on his ex-girlfriend by proxy.  Of course, I'm not surprised that another Hemingway novel seems to borrow from his own life - they say you need to "Write what you know".  That's great advice, provided that your life is interesting enough to write about - so first you have to get out and LIVE and DO something interesting before you start writing.  

This is where Hemingway excelled.  I'm not going to say it was easy being an ambulance driver during World War I, I'm sure the opposite is true.  But it sure helped make him an authority when it came time to write a novel about it.  This is at least somewhat inspirational for me as I set out to write about being a young film school student in the late 1980's. 

Also starring Rock Hudson (last seen in "Giant"), Vittorio De Sica, Elaine Stritch (last seen in "September"), Mercedes McCambridge (last seen in "Touch of Evil"), Oskar Homolka (last seen in "Sabotage").

RATING: 3 out of 10 sugar cubes

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Year 6, Day 277 - 10/4/14 - Movie #1,868

BEFORE: Day 2 of the Hemingway chain, and Spencer Tracy links to Gregory Peck (last seen in "The Paradine Case") through "How the West Was Won". 
THE PLOT: Writer Harry Street reflects on his life as he lies dying from an infection while on safari in the shadow of Mount Kilamanjaro.

AFTER: Well, this Hemingway code was even easier to crack than I thought it would be.  There's no way that this "Harry Street" guy is NOT a stand-in for Hemingway.  This story was published in 1961, the year Hemingway died - and concerns a writer looking back on his accomplishments and lost loves.  
Both the fictional Street and the real Hemingway lived in Paris for a time, both did very manly man-things like shooting wild animals on safari and punching out hippos.  (Let's face it, Hemingway was twice the man you are, unless of course, you're a lady, which means he was probably five times the man you are.)  

Other not-so-coincidental coincidences: both Street and Hemingway wrote in Paris about the "lost generation", both enjoyed watching bullfighting in Spain, both fell in love with American women against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.  Both are heavy drinkers, sure, but aren't all writers?  The only thing that separates Street and Hemingway seems to be the way they died, otherwise Street might as well be named "Schmernest Schmemingway". 

Your English teacher is probably going to mention that the main themes in Hemingway's stories are women and death.  Well, that's exactly what this one is about - but aren't all stories about women and death?  For extra credit you've got to use words like "emancipation" and "emasculation" - Hemingway was fighting the good fight for men at a time when women were coming in to their own.  Just look at how Harry Street is laid up here with an infection, while his wife goes on safari and shoots some antelope - by God, isn't that man's work?  

Oh, another key difference between Street and Hemingway - as Street lays dying, he looks back on the great moments of his life and regrets that he never made a record of them.  But, in taking a look at what Hemingway wrote about, it seems that in the end, that's kind of all that he did - he just changed the names. 

This film and "Old Man and the Sea" demonstrate a key moment in filmmaking history, as directors began to utilize the "blue-screen" or "green-screen" technique, instead of the rear-projection technique used for years in driving scenes.  So Spencer Tracy never went marlin-fishing, and Gregory Peck never went on safari, both stayed in Hollywood as these films were made.  They look shoddy by today's digital standards, but it was no doubt a godsend in keeping production costs down in the 1950's.  

There's also the matter of keeping the actors safe.  (One school of thought says you should shoot the most dangerous scenes first and get them out of the way, the other says that you should shoot them last, that way in case the actor dies, you can still finish the movie.)  Gregory Peck injured his knee during production while lifting Ava Gardner, and this halted production, because all of the scenes where his character was lying in bed fighting the infection had already been filmed. 

Also starring Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner (last seen in "Earthquake"), Hildegard Knef, Leo G. Carroll (last seen in "North by Northwest")

RATING: 3 out of 10 hyenas