Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Woman in White

The Woman in White (1948) is a psychological thriller directed by Peter Godfrey and based on the novel by Wilkie Collins. The movie stars Gig Young, Alexis Smith, Sydney Greenstreet, Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, John Emery and John Abbott.

In 1851, artist Walter Hartright (Gig Young) arrives in Limmeridge, England to teach drawing to wealthy Laura Fairlie (Eleanor Parker).

As he walks to the Fairlie estate, he encounters a strange young woman (Eleanor Parker) dressed in white, who disappears when a carriage drives up. The people in the carriage ask if Walter has seen the woman and explain that she has escaped from an asylum. Walter denies seeing the woman.

At the estate, Walter is greeted by Laura’s cousin, Marian Halcombe (Alexis Smith). The other members of the household are Frederick Fairlie (John Abbott), Laura (Eleanor Parker) and Count Fosco (Sydney Greenstreet).

Walter pays a visit to Fredrick Fairlie, an invalid with a nervous disposition who never leaves his room and is bothered by the slightest noise.

The next morning, Walter is introduced to Laura (Eleanor Parker) and mistakes her for the woman in white he met on the road. He soon realizes his mistake, and at breakfast, an amused Laura reveals the story to the rest of the house.

Later, Mrs. Vesey (Emma Dunn), Laura's old nurse, admits that many years earlier, there was a little girl at the house, who was about the same age and appearance as Laura. This information prompts Marian to investigate and read through old family letters, which confirms that there was a girl and her named was Ann Catherick who vowed to always wear all white.

Although Walter asks Marian not to mention the letter to Count Fosco (Sydney Greenstreet), the Count sees the letter and seizes it. Count Fosco had been in the carriage looking for the woman in white. Walter is suspicious of Count Fosco.

Walter and Laura begin to fall in love. But their romance is complicated by the return of Laura's fiance, Sir Percival Glyde (John Emery).

At Marian's insistance, Walter agrees to leave the estate. Before he does, he encounters Ann, who tells him she is being kept in the asylum to prevent her from warning Laura. Ann tells Walter her story and Walter tries to get her to confront Percival and Fosco but Ann is scared away at the sight of Fosco.

Walter accuses Percival and Fosco of forcing Fairlie to agree to Percival’s marriage to Laura for her money. Count Fosco dismisses Walter's claims and says that Ann is a mentally disturbed woman. Walter leaves the estate unable to get anyone to believe him.

Laura and Percivial marry. While they are on their honeymoon, Marian visits family. When Marian returns to the estate, she learns that the old family staff has been replaced. She is also shocked by Laura's strange behavior. Also living at the estate is Count Fosco and his wife (Agnes Moorehead).

Later, Laura tells Marian secretly that she is frightened of her husband. She tells Marian that Percival wants her money and she fears he might kill her. We learn that Count Fosco has been drugging Laura to gain control of her mind.

Laura falls ill and is having delusions. Ann visits Laura to warn her against Fosco and Percival. Ann escapes just as Fosco and Percival arrive in Laura's room. Fosco knows she has been there but is unable to figure out where she went.

We learn that Ann is hiding in a secret room off of Laura's bedroom and she is being helped by Countness Fosco (Agnes Moorehead).

Ann visits Laura again but is interrupted by Percival and Fosco and is frightened to death. Count Fosco has a wonderful plan. He substitutes Ann's body for Laura's. Laura is sent back to the asylum as Ann. Ann is buried as Laura.

At the funeral for Laura, Walter returns and realizes that it is Ann not Laura in the coffin. He tells Marian everything he knows and Marian believes him and agrees to help.

In the meantime, Fosco tries to convince Laura that she is Ann. He is not completely successful. In a moment when Laura realizes who she really is, she tells Percival she is pregnant.

Walter and Marian, have fallen in love, and Walter goes to the asylum to free Laura from her captors. However, he is too late, Laura has escaped on her own. He finds her and returns her to the hotel where he and Marian are staying. But Marian has left, she has returned to the estate to confront Count Fosco and make a deal with him. Laura and Walter rush to the estate to find Marian.

This is a wonderful and gripping psychological thriller with so many questions.

Who really is Ann and why was she sent away from the estate as a young girl?

Why is Countess Fosco helping Ann and what is her connection to Ann?

What is Count Fosco and Percival's true plan?

Will Walter and Laura arrive in time to save Marian from Count Fosco?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Carmen Jones

Carman Jones (1954) is an American musical film produced and directed by Otto Preminger.

The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Carmen Jones also earned two Academy Award nominations. Dorothy Dandridge was nominated for Best Actress (the first African American to be nominated for Best Actress) and a second nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture for
Herschel Burke Gilbert.

The movie is based on the screenplay by Harry Kleiner is based on the 1943 stage production of the same name by Oscar Hammerstein II, which was inspired by an adaptation of the 1845 Prosper Mérimée novella Carmen by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

Otto Preminger realized no major studio would be interested in financing an operatic film with an all African American cast, so he decided to produce it independently
Because he himself was sensitive to the issue of racial representation in the film, Preminger had no objections when Zanuck urged him to submit the script to Walter Francis White, executive secretary of the NAACP, who had no objection to it.

In adapting it for the screen, he wanted to make "a dramatic film with music rather than a conventional film musical," so he decided to return to the original source material - the Prosper Mérimée novella - and hired Harry Kleiner, whom he had taught at Yale University, to expand the story beyond the limitations imposed upon it by the Bizet opera and Hammerstein's interpretation of it.

Otto Preminger next began to assemble his cast.

Harry Belafonte (Joe), was a folk singer who recently introduced Calypso music to mainstream America and only had one film to his credit. But he had just won the Tony Award and Theatre World Award for John Murray Anderson's Almanac.

Pearl Bailey's (Frankie) sole screen credit was the 1948 film Isn't It Romantic?, but she had achieved success as a band singer and was familiar to television audiences from her appearances on Your Show of Shows.

Joe Adams (Husky Miller), was a Los Angeles disc jockey with no acting experience, but Preminger felt he had the right look for Husky.

Diahann Carroll auditioned for the title role of Carmen, but she was so terrified of the director she could barely focus on the scene, and Preminger cast her in the small supporting role of Myrt instead.

Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen) was not Otto Preminger's first choice. He was familiar with Dorothy Dandridge but felt she was incapable of exuding the sultry sex appeal the role of Carmen demanded. Preminger suggested she audition for the role of Cindy Lou. Dandridge took the script and left, and when she returned she was dressed and behaved exactly as Preminger envisioned Carmen. She won the role.

Recent Juilliard graduate Olga James was cast as Cindy Lou.

Although Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte were singers, neither was capable of singing the operatic score, so Marilyn Horne and LeVern Hutcherson were hired to record their operatic vocals. Marvin Hayes was hired to provide the vocals for the role of Husky Miller.

The movie is set during World War II, and focuses on Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge), a vixen who works in a parachute factory. When she is arrested for fighting with a co-worker who reported her for arriving late for work, foreman Sgt. Brown (Brock Peters) assigns young soldier Joe (Harry Belafonte) to deliver her to the authorities, much to the dismay of Joe's fiancée Cindy Lou (Olga James), who had agreed to marry him during his leave.

While en route, Carmen seduces Joe and the next morning he awakens to find a note in which she says although she loves him she is unable to deal with time in jail and is running away. Joe is locked in the stockade for allowing his prisoner to escape, and Cindy Lou arrives just as a rose from Carmen is delivered to him, prompting her to leave abruptly.

Having found work in a Louisiana nightclub, Carmen awaits Joe's release. One night champion prizefighter Husky Miller (Joe Adams) enters with an entourage and introduces himself to Carmen, who expresses no interest in him. Husky orders his manager to offer her jewelry, furs, and an expensive hotel suite if she and her friends Frankie (Pearl Bailey) and Myrt (Diahann Carroll) accompany him to Chicago, but she declines the offer.

Just then, Joe arrives and announces he must report to flying school immediately. Angered, Carmen decides to leave with Sgt. Brown, who also has appeared at the night club, and Joe severely beats him. Realizing he will sentenced to a long prison term for hitting his superior, Joe flees to Chicago with Carmen.

While Joe remains hidden in a shabby rented room, Carmen secretly visits Husky's gym to ask Frankie for a loan, but she insists she has no money of her own. Carmen returns to their room with a bag of groceries, and Joe questions how she paid for them. The two argue, and she goes to Husky's hotel suite to play cards with her friends. When she draws the nine of spades, she interprets it as a premonition of impending doom and descends into a spiral of alcohol and debauchery.

Cindy Lou arrives at Husky's gym in search of Carmen just before Joe appears. Ignoring his former sweetheart, he orders Carmen to leave with him and threatens Husky with a knife when he tries to intervene. Carmen helps Joe escape the military police.

At Husky's big fight, Joe finds Carmen and confronts her and says he loves her and can't live without her. When she rebuffs him, Joe strangles Carmen to death just before the police arrive to apprehend him for desertion.

This is a wonderful films with an incredible cast. The songs are delightful and Dorothy Dandridge is one of a kind as Carmen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Giant (1956) is a drama directed by George Stevens from a screenplay adapted by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from the novel by Edna Ferber.

The movie stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. The movie also features Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Rod Taylor, Sal Mineo and Earl Holliman.

The movie opens with Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), the head of a Texas ranch, traveling to Maryland to buy a stud horse, War Winds. While there, he meets and courts socialite Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) who becomes his wife. They return to Texas to start their life together on the family ranch, Reata.

Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), Bick's sister, and Leslie do not get along. Jett Rink (James Dean), the ranch's handyman, is envious of the Benedict wealth and is smitten with Leslie.

Luz dies after War Winds bucks her off, and as part of her will, Jett is given a plot of land on the Benedict ranch. Bick tries to buy back the land, but Jett refuses. Jett fences off his piece of land and names the property Little Reata.

Leslie gives birth to twins (Jordan Benedict III and Judy) and later has another daughter Luz Jr. Bick's dream is for his son Jordy to one day take over the family ranch. Even at a young age, Jordy is afraid of horses and prefers playing with his toy doctor's kit. This causes tension between Leslie and Bick.

Jett discovers oil on his property and when he gets his first gusher, he barges onto the Benedict's property proclaiming in front of the entire family and most of the town who have gathered for the twins' birthday party, that he will be richer than the Benedicts.

Jett starts an oil drilling company that makes him enormously wealthy. Bick resists the lure of oil wealth, preferring to remain a rancher. After World War II breaks out, Jett convinces Bick to allow oil production on the ranch to help the war effort.

In the postwar years, tensions in the Benedict household revolve around how the parents want to bring up their children. Bick stubbornly insists that Jordy (Dennis Hopper) must succeed him and run the ranch, but Jordy wants to become a doctor. Leslie wants Judy (Fran Bennett) to attend finishing school in in Switzerland, but Judy loves the ranch and wants to stay in Texas for her education studying agriculture.

Bick realizes Jordy is going to become a doctor despite his wishes. He hopes that Judy's new husband Bob (Earl Holliman) will take over the ranch, but Judy wants to start her own place, a little ranch for her and her husband.

The Benedict/Rink rivalry comes to a head when the Benedicts find Luz Jr. (Carroll Baker) and Jett Rink have been dating. Bick takes Jett to a kitchen room to fight him over Judy and Jordy but realizes that Jett is a drunken old man, who only has money and leaves. The party ends when Jett, completely drunk, passes out on the table right before his big speech. Luz Jr. sees him afterwards and discovers he is a lonely, unhappy, mess who has a crush on her mother.

The movie protrays how the oil industry transformed Texas ranchers during the early 20th century.

This movie also has a major sub-plot of racism against the Mexican Americans in Texas. When the movie starts, Bick and Luz are racist towards the Mexicans who work on their ranch, which upsets Leslie greatly. She also learns that Jett is racist as well. In one scene, Jett drives Leslie through a little Mexican American village where a baby is very sick. Jett tells Leslie not to get involved. Leslie does and makes sure a doctor visits the baby and this upsets her husband greatly. Leslie later arranges for a Mexican American doctor to look after the people in the village.

Bick's racism comes to a head, when his son Jordy marries a Mexican American (Elsa Cardenas) and they have a son. Bick slowly begins to see the Mexican Americans as people and his equal. In a very telling scene at a diner, Bick gets into a fist fight with the diner's owner when he refuses service to a family of Mexican Americans. At the gala, Jordy first gets into a fight with Jett when Jett has order his hotel staff not to serve Mexican Americans and his wife is refused service at a beauty salon.

This movie is way ahead of its time telling the racial tension that existed in Texas during the 20th century. Also Bick's beating at the hands of the racist diner owner shows that good does not always triumph over bad.

When World War II breaks out, Judy's husband Bob and Angel (Sal Mineo) the son of a ranch hand, are both drafted. Bob returns home safe but Angel is killed in the war, a reminder that Mexican Americans fought and were killed in World War II.

A third more minor sub plot is women as equals. This is not as apparant as the racism sub plot. But is shown beautifully in one scene after a dinner party at the ranch. The men are sitting in one corner talking politics. The women are in another corner, knitting. Leslie attempts to join in on the men's conversation and is told it is not her place. Leslie gives a wonderful speech about women and their contributions to the world and their rights.

Giant won the Academy Award for Directing. It was also nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (both James Dean and Rock Hudson), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge), Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Musical Score, Best Picture and Best Writing.

This is a very powerful film and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Prince and The Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper (1937) was directed by William Keighly and William Dieterle and was based on the novel of the same name by Mark Twain. The movie stars Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, and Billy & Bobby Mauch.

In Tudor England in 1537, two boys are born on the same day under very different circumstances. Tom (Billy Mauch) is born in the slums of Tudor to a vicious criminal John Canty (Barton MaClane). While Edward (Bobby Mauch) is born a prince and the heir of King Henry VIII (Montagu Love). Tom grows up in poverty, begging for food and Edward grows up in luxury, with a curiousity of the outside world. As Tom grows up, he studies with Father Andrew and dreams of a life apart from the beggers and thieves that surround him.

One night, when Tom hides in the palace yard to escape a driving rain, the two boys meet, realize there is a striking resemblance between them, and playfully exchange clothes. But the Captain of the Guard (Alan Hale Sr.) mistakes the prince for the pauper and throws him out of the palace grounds.

Tom is unable to convince anybody that he is not the prince. Everyone is convinced that he is mentally ill. When Henry VIII dies, Tom is scheduled to take the thrown. Tom finally convinces except for the Earl of Hertford (Claude Rains) of his identity. Hertford threatens to expose Tom unless he does as he is told. Hertford hopes to be appointed Edward's Lord High Protector and seizes the opportunity to control the throne by forcing Tom to continue the pretense. Hetford Hertford also blackmails the Captain into searching for the real prince to eliminate the dangerous loose end and orders the murder of the real Edward.

Meanwhile, Edward finds an amused, if disbelieving protector in Miles Hendon (Errol Flynn). Edward is horrified when John Canty kidnaps him from Miles and Edward witnesses John murder the beloved Father Andrew. John runs to hiding taking Edward with him and Edward in the process learns alot about the people of England.

The Captain finds Edward and attempts to assainate the boy. He is rescued by Miles and Miles engages in a sword fight with the Captain. With Miles help, Edward manages to re-enter the palace just in time to interrupt the coronation ceremony and prove his identity. Tom is made a ward of the new king, and Hendon is rewarded for his services.

This movie has a great cast and is a marvelous film. Billy and Bobby Mauch are delightful as the Prince and the Pauper. Claude Rains is pure evil as the Earl of Hertford. Errol Flynn is adorable as Miles Hendon.

I highly recommend this film.