Monday, September 29, 2008

All the kids are doin' it.

So this blogger at the Lazy Eye Theater came up with this idea called the "12 Movies Meme" which was to create a film festival of 12 films, around a random or themed topic. That morphed into people just posting lists of movies they want to see. So my own version of this is 12 films I'm quite embarassed to have never seen as a so-called Classic Movie Fan. As part of the blogger obsession with due credit, I'd like to say that if you use this meme please link back to this post. If you came with this meme before me and just want to gripe how I didn't link back to you and pretended to invent the meme myself, then by all means post it in the comments and I'll make sure you get your credit toot sweet, sweetie. As far as I know I'm the first to come up with:

Twelve classic films, I should have seen by now

12. Cries and Whispers (1972)I may have seen this movie. It's possible. I watched a lot of Bergman films in college film classes. I think being forced to watch Bergman films was an experience that came very close to putting me off watching foreign films for good. Most of the French New Wave had a similar effect on me. If it weren't for the saving influence of The Bicycle Thief, Jules Et Jim and La Strada, I probably would still want to run a mile every time I saw the Janus Films logo flash across the screen.

11. Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) I've started to watch this movie about half a dozen times but have never gotten much past the first half hour. On occasion I've been interrupted, but really this movie just fails my 20 minute test. If a film fails to engage my interest in the first 20 minutes and its not something I'm really committed to watching, I usually switch it off. I know it's supposed to be a great thriller and it has Lawrence Olivier in it, so I probably will eventually overcome my ambivalence about this movie and get past the slow beginning.

10. The Jazz Singer (1927) Everyone knows this was the first "talkie" but how many people have actually sat down and watched it? I'm not a big Al Jolson fan so apart from it's importance to film history, there isn't a lot here to inspire me. It may be a while on this one I'm afraid. If it helps, any, I did see the 1980 remake with Neil Diamond. I love that guy.

9. Key Largo (1948) Probably the most famous Bogart movie I haven't seen. Key Largo was directed by John Huston and co-starred Edward G. Robinson. Either of those things should be enough to recommend the movie to me. It's languished on my DVR for ages because there always seems to be something a little more interesting, new and exciting to watch instead. The Bertie Higgins song, of the same title, probably has more to do with why I've never seen the movie than anything else.

8. Now Voyager (1942) I'm only just getting into Bette Davis as is evidenced by my tendency to misspell her name. But still, you'd think I would have seen her most famous and successful film from her biggest decade. Luckily TCM is showing this movie a ton this fall as part of the Essentials. I'm sure I'll catch it eventually.

7. Bluebeard's Eigth Wife (1938) A Gary Cooper comedy from the late thirties and I haven't seen it. And it co-stars the always-excellent Claudette Colbert. It's not easily available, but it's not exactly super obscure either. If I had a nickle for every time I've been outbid on Ebay for the VHS of this movie, I'd probably have a buck by now.

6. Theodora Goes Wild (1936) They show this movie on TCM a couple times a year and I always miss it. I've heard the radio version of it and I've read the short story that it was based on. I love Irene Dunne. So why can't I get it together and watch this movie already? I don't know. I'll have to settle for Youtube in the meantime.

5. Heaven Can Wait (1943) There are two Ernest Lubitsch movies on this list and this is the more obscure of the two. You will probably be shocked, SHOCKED when you see what the second one is.

4. Mister Roberts (1955) I've seen the play this movie was based on, does that count? I used to study every day in the Thomas Heggen Room at the journalism school at the University of Minnesota, does that help? No? Well, I have no excuse to not have watched this other than it just hasn't happened. Look at the cast list: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon and William Powell in his final film performance. Oh and it gets worse! It was directed by John Ford. Ack. I'm so lame.

3. Top Hat (1935) Now here is a huge confession. Not only have I never seen Top Hat, I've never watched an Astaire/Rogers picture all the way through. Not Flying Down to Rio, not Shall we Dance? Nope. Nothing. The weird thing is I really love musicals. Maybe I'm just biased towards MGM musicals in color or need to have a Rogers and Hammerstein score attached before I can commit but really would it be so hard to watch Top Hat? No, just the opposite. It'd be all too easy. You see, deep down I'm terrified that I'll fall in love and have ANOTHER obsession to deal with.

2. Twentieth Century (1934) I've probably faked my way through conversations about this movie because it's just expected that anyone who supposedly knows something about comedies from this era, has seen it. It was directed by my favorite director, Howard Hawks, it has dialog by my favorite writers, Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges, and it stars Carole Lombard, one of the best comic actors of the era. What's wrong with me, people?

I have no idea what's going on here, but I'm sure it's funny enough to lift me from the despair of any number of personal calamities.

1. Ninotchka (1939) I've had this movie on my DVR for more than a month. In the past I've turned down at least two opportunities to watch it. I don't know what I watched in it's place, but it was probably no Ninotchka. I know it's a great movie and I know I should watch it. The only way I can explain this is something my friend AbbyNormal said about a certain Cary Grant movie she hasn't watched. "I know I should watch it, but I really like knowing there's one really good Cary Grant movie I haven't seen. I have it on my shelf waiting for me if I need it." So my not watching Ninotchka, is really like keeping a cinematic fire extinguisher at the ready--"in case of fire, break glass." In case my life should cut adrift in some way that requires the unique combination of Greta Garbo and comedy to restore it, I'll have it there waiting for me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Is it too early for a clip show

Sam Jaffe, Douglas Fairbanks Junior and Cary Grant brave the heat on the set of Gunga Din.

You may have been wondering where the heck I've been lately after teasing you with hints of Kay Francis marathons and more Tonto and Friends. The strangest thing happened (cue wiggly screen effects and flashback music) when I got together with Tonto and Friends to discuss their latest movie review of Gunga Din at the CinemaOCD Vault and Winebar.

Jenny: OK, guys, I love your review of Gunga Din. It was very astute Tonto when you compared the film to Three Kings (1999). So you see the George Clooney as being comparable to the Douglas Fairbank's junior character since he has the romance with the girl. Would that make Mark Wallberg, Cary Grant and Ice Cube, Victor McLaghlen, then?

Tonto: Yes.

Jenny: We should add that, then. I thought the biggest laugh came from Frankenstein when he compared himself to Victor McGlaglen. I guess you see yourself as an oft-misunderstood brute with good intentions?

Frankenstein: Gahhhhh, same shoe size!

Jenny: I see. I have to agree with Tonto's assessment of Joan Fontaine in Gunga Din, "all eyebrows. No sex appeal." I love her in Rebecca and Suspicion, but here she just seems underused and annoying. No wonder they don't want Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to marry her.

Tonto: Is classic buddy movie quandry. Unworthy woman comes between good friends. Is Saving Silverman with elephant thrown in.

Jenny: I agree, Tonto. It is a classic motif. Annie the Elephant is the real female star of the movie. Tonto, I also really liked your Gunga Din drinking game.

Tonto: Take sip fire water every time character is thrown out window.

Jenny: Yeah, that does happen a lot doesn't it? But I was curious to know how you Tonto especially felt about this being essentially a Cowboys and Indians movie with a different setting.

Tonto: Tonto prefer "Native Americans."

Jenny: Fair enough but you know what I'm saying?

Tonto: Tonto understand. I not agree completely. Maybe Jenny Nipper can't resist Cowboys and Indians pun?

Jenny: Oh Tonto, you know me so well. More Merlot, anyone?

Frankenstein: Merlot good.

Tonto: Tonto think some comparison apt, such as cavalry charging in to save day. Tonto can not think of Cowboy movie where noble Native American sacrifice self to save white men.

Jenny: Maybe we should throw that out there to our readers. If it exists, they are sure to have seen it. As a person of color, Tonto, does Gunga Din, offend you?

Tonto: Tonto not offended by so-called racism in Gunga Din. Tonto view Kipling as critical of colonialism. They are out to plunder treasure, not help people of India defeat evil murder cult. Could view as metaphor for entire colonial adventure.

Jenny: That's how I've always viewed it too. But isn't Din a "noble savage" stereoptype?

Tonto: That make Tonto laugh. Many people think Tonto is noble savage stereotype. Tonto assure critics that he put breeches on one leg at a time just like anyone else.

Jenny: Good point. And Jaffe is very good. I think he and Grant play particularly well together.

Tarzan: (Yawn) Me go get more cheese. Anyone want anything from bar?

Frankenstein: No, thanks. Me good.

Tonto: Tonto good too.

Jenny: Well, I think this review is ready to go. I've got my introduction where I talk about how every time I go a month or more without watching a Cary grant movie, I'm always blown away by watching him and think "oh my God! Cary Grant is awesome. Why haven't I been watching his movies more." I think I'll dig up some tight uniform Eye Candy and---

Tonto: Guys, bartender is gone!

Tonto: Huh? Tonto drink too much fire water again. He probably inside vault stocking shelves. (Tonto gets up to look inside vault) Hey guys look at this. Note from bartender.

(Jenny the Nipper, Tarzan and Frankenstein follow Tonto into the Vault. Suddenly a gust of wind blows the door shut. Alarmed, Tarzan tries to open the vault door.)

Tarzan: We're trapped.

Frankenstein: Gahhhh. Small spaces baaad. Frankenstein clausterphobic.

Jenny: don't panic, big fella. I'm sure the bartender will be back soon. What does the note say?

Tonto: (Reading note) "Sorry. I just received text from ex-wife. Having panic attack. Be back when Zantac kicks in."

Tarzan: Awwwwwououou Awwwwwwwwwww! HEEEEEEEELPPPPP!

Tonto: Tarzan warn Tonto next time he going to scream in Tonto's ear!

Frankenstein: Gaaaaaaaah! We die in here!!!!

Jenny: Everyone just calm down. We have plenty of wine and cheese and DVDs to sustain us for as long as it takes for the bartender to return.

Tonto: What about bathroom?

Jenny: Well that could be a problem. We did drink quite a lot of merlot.

Tarzan: Quit talking about bathroom. Only make things worse.

Jenny: Let's try to focus on some thing creative and positive to pass the time.

Tarzan: I know! Jenny and Tarzan could explore unresolved sexual tension.

Jenny: er, what unresolved sexual tension?

Tarzan: (shrugs) Was worth a shot.

Tonto: Tonto and Friends could discuss favorite moments from CinemaOCD blog.

Frankenstein: Gah, a clip show!!!! Clip show baaad.

Jenny: I agree. I don't think we've been around long enough for a backward look. That's a season three gimmick along with replacing the cute kid with an even cuter little kid.

Tarzan: Is always sexual tension thing.

Jenny: Right, clip show it is, then. Frankenstein, why don't you start us off what's your favorite moment from the blog so far.

Frankenstein: Me love Cupidon!!

Jenny: That was a lot of fun, wasn't it. I'll go next. My favorite moment from the blog was probably the first Tonto and Friends piece on Moonstruck!

Tonto: So embarassing! Like first season Simpsons. Is all raw, unformed ideas.

Jenny: That's what I love about it. Tonto you go next.

Tonto: Tonto's favorite moment from blog so far was in depth look at pre-code Barbara Stanwyck. Missy so pretty. Pretty, pretty Missy. Sigh.

Tarzan: Me like Barbara Stanwyck Eye Candy of Day, too.

Jenny: Was that your favorite moment?

Tarzan: Well, maybe. Tarzan can't decide between Norma Shearer Eye Candy of Day and Barbara Stanwyck picture from Lady of Burlesque.

Frankenstein: (wolf whistles) Lady of Burlesque.

Jenny: I really enjoyed the discussion that followed that Norma Shearer post.

Frankenstein: Must have blooopers!! Clipshow need bloopers!

Jenny: Oh, yes good idea. Let's see there was the time I spelled Bette Davis with a "Y" or the time I randomly changed a director's first name to "Bruce." But both of those mistakes got fixed, thanks to the miracle of the edit button. Here's a good blooper reel for you, anyway with some flubs from Saratoga Trunk.

Tarzan: Ha! Classic stars swearing! It never get old.

Tonto: Tonto say montage of people punching each other out, never get old.

Frankenstein: Hitting!

Jenny: Thanks, Tonto, now I'm going to have Tub Thumping in my head for the remainder of our stay in this vault.

(Montage of time elapse: Calendar pages falling away, Tonto drinking wine, Frankenstein eating a big piece of cheese, everyone watching DVD of The Yearling and trying to act like they have something in their eye, Jenny and Tarzan having an almost kiss moment, Jenny hitting Tarzan over the head with empty wine bottle, which makes funny Three Stooges sound effect, more calendar pages falling away until we see that it has been nine days.)

Tonto: Tonto say if bartender no show up soon, bladder going to explode.

Frankenstein: Guuuuuh, Nine Days! Nine Days!

Tarzan: No more Gregory Peck movies! Me kill next person who brings up Gregory Peck!

Jenny: And who would that comment be aimed at, eh, loincloth boy?!

Tonto: (putting ear to door) Shhh! Tonto have super Native American hearing ability. Tonto think bartender coming back.

(Suddenly vault door rumble and swings open.)

Jenny: Oh thank god we're saved!

Bartender: You were in there the whole time? Man, I thought I had it rough with the ex and all. Anyone for a glass of wine. We just got a new case of merlot in and---

Everyone: Don't mention Merlot!!!!

(Group makes mad rush for the bathroom.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New policy regarding spoilers

I said in my first post that I'm going to assume people have seen movies and use spoilers. Listening to Mick LaSalle's podcast from a few weeks ago, I realized that if professional movie critics are capable of not spoiling films that are still in the theater, then there is no reason I can't discuss plot elements without spoiling surprises. So spoiler-phobes you can now be sure that I won't spoil major plot points in my future reviews.

I can't guarantee anything when it comes to Tonto and Friends, though.

Sub Mission: A tribute to submarine movies

Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo. If there isn't a scene like this in every sub movie, there should be.

I love a good submarine movie. There's something about the genre. You can say what you want about the Freudian symbolism of the craft, but I wonder if it's a coincidence that they all have at least one scene where the men start stripping off their wet shirts to deal with the heat and oppressive atmosphere. It's always Tennessee Williams hot on board a submarine, in more ways than one.

Das Boot goes for gritty (and sweaty) realism.

Probably the best sub movie of all time is Das Boot. It's also the longest. I've heard rumors of five hour cuts of this film. That's a lot of submarine. Even I might tire of a submerged tin can full of pent up testoreone and men in wet shirts. Nah. Who am I kidding? If one of my loyal readers sent me the five hour Das Boot, I'd watch it. This is a hint, people, by the way.

I dug up the trailer for Crimson Tide (1995) on Youtube. Watch for a pre-Sopranos James Gandolphini saying "Dive, Dive" and sweating a lot. Notice how everyone is sweating a lot in the clip. And in the scenes where they aren't sweating it's raining really hard, just to up the wateriness quotient of the movie, I guess.

Gable: They carried the whole "wet look" a bit too far.

One of the dramatic devices of Crimson tide, the clash between an old captain and a younger officer, is a recurring theme in the genre. From Charles Laughton and Gary Cooper in Devil in the Deep (1932) to Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson in K-19, the Widowmaker (2002), you pretty much now that two things are going to happen. The young guy is gonna get wet and then he's gonna yell at the older guy. In Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), it's the old guy, Clark Gable who gets wet.

After the yelling and the second guessing, there will be certainly be a contrastingly quiet scene where almost we hear is that "Boop....booop" noise that you always hear in the background in a sub movie. That's usually the cue to start the tech talk. "Crush depth," "fire torpedos," "up, persicope" and the like. I love all the tech talk in a sub movie. It reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, which is really every kind of navy battle movie set in space. You definitely have the submarine thing, because they put their nukes in tubes and fire them like torpedos. Every time Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) starts barking out navigational coordinates, you can tell that President Roslin (Mary McDonnel) just wants to jump his bones. Submarine movies have long extended sequences where people talk in this kind of gibberish and yet it's always tense and dramatic.

Gregory Peck and his periscope in On the Beach.

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica, I wouldn't be surprised if the creators of that series had seen On The Beach with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck. They are both about people coping with the end of the world. How do survivors move on with their lives and what problems do they have hooking up with other survivors. Turns out they have a lot of issues. Gregory Peck plays a submarine commander whose surely lost his family in the war that's destroyed all of the the Northern Hemisphere, but he continues to act as if they are o.k., buying them gifts, writing letters home. Yet he's trying to come to terms with his relationship with Ava Gardner, which is like mental adultery to him. It's a very fine drama that has amazing work from Gardiner, Peck, pre-Pyscho Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire among others. That's why I resisted the temptation to title this whole piece "Das Booty Call: Gregory Peck in On the Beach." That would be too flippant even for me.

I wasn't expecting On the Beach (1959) to be a sub movie, since it's about nuclear war. The opening scene has Gregory Peck bending over a periscope. I had to stop the movie and replay it and say aloud, "You had me at 'up periscope' On the Beach."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: Warren William

Warren William with Billie Dove in an as-yet unnamed film.
I first heard about Warren William from one of my regular readers, kda, and then read about him in Mick LaSalle's "Dangerous Men." Those two recommendations alone were enough to sign me up for his fan club, the only trouble was I hadn't actually seen any of the man's films. Well TCM this month has decided to be complete pre-code awesomeness and I finally got my Warren William movie, in the form of The Dark Horse. I was not disappointed.

William plays Hal Blake, a smooth political operator who is called in by a desperate party to get a patsy dark horse candidate, literally named "Hicks," elected governor. William was known as the poor-man's John Barrymore (perhaps, they should have said, Warner's John Barrymore, as it amounted to much the same thing) because of his likeness of profile. I think that's a really shallow assessment though, given what I've seen of Barrymore's acting. I can't see Barrymore touching this deviously cynical character whose chief troubles revolve trying to get his current girlfriend (Bette Davis) to help him with his alimony payments. Not exactly the type of noble character Barrymore would play. Warren also has a zany energy that is nothing like John Barrymore. If anything it recalls Cary Grant in His Girl Friday. In fact, I might go so far as to say that Grant's Walter Burns is almost an homage to the sort of slimy, yet charming characters that William played in his pre-code films.

Paired with smart and capable actresses, Bette Davis , and Vivianne Osborne as his backstabbing ex-wife, Warren William throws ethics both professional and romantic to the wind and the audience is completely prepared to still accept him as a hero. It goes to show that Grant could never have gotten away with playing Walter Burns the way he did if Rosalind Russel had been one bit less his equal. Bette Davis is not quite up to Roz Russell level of gal Friday perfection, but she certainly oozes intelligence and competence though she may be a bit stiff at times. Osborn fairs better as a woman who is every bit as unethical as her ex-husband, but lacking in his redeeming romanticism.

The Dark Horse is a perfect introduction to this actor, as it's timely, smart and funny. Looking beyond William's shellaced hair and pencil thin mustache, concessions to the Barrymore look, I'm sure, William reminds me of Liam Neeson of all people. An early scene in The Dark Horse reminded me so much of Neeson in Michael Collin's rousing the prisoner's to the cause of the Irish Independence that I was distracted for the first ten minutes of the film. Of course, Hal Blake knows nothing about the man he's praising in such grand terms, and is the first, but not the last instance of grand theatrics used to sell politics. This satire feels as fresh as the day it was made. The key points about the electorate needing to feel that the candidate is as stupid as they are certainly hit home in an election season where a Wellesley College graduate drank bourbon and talked NASCAR and a vice presidential candidate's chief qualifications have to do with the ability to shoot something besides her hunting companions.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stagedoor: How acting is just like karate

Pajama Party: Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers are roommates at the "Footlights Club" a theatrical boarding house on Broadway.

Acting apparently is a body-learned skill like Karate if the movie Stage Door (1936) is to be believed. Katharine Hepburn plays Terry Randall, a blue-blood novice actress who arrives at a theatrical boarding house with three enormous trunks full of clothes, a pocket full of cash and some big ambitions. While the rest of the girls at the boarding house are pounding the pavement looking for work, Terry reads Shakespeare and gives lectures on the topic to a reluctant audience of house mates. She goes on no auditions and insults a major producer to his face and yet she lands the lead role in a new play. Her father, hoping to cure her of the acting bug has gone to the trouble and expense of backing a show for the sole reason of giving her the star role at which he's certain she will fail. If this seems a bit extreme and silly as a method of parenting, you can take comfort in that it utterly fails. Terry who shows no talent in rehearsal, suddenly discovers she can act when one of the members of footlights club commits suicide. Like Daniel-sahn in the Karate Kid, Terry has been unwittingly taking lessons from a master, all the while she thought she was just waxing the cars and painting the fence. Or something like that.

Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou are also in this snappy movie, with Rogers providing most of the zingers in her repartee with Hepburn. Rogers plays a struggling actress who gets a job dancing in one of Menjou's clubs. Rogers is always a delight and it's fun to watch her tap dance away from wolfish non-dancing Menjou. The excellent supporting cast includes Lucille Ball in an early role that showcases her comedic talent, though not as much as we might hope. Andrea Leeds who plays the suicidal Kay Hamilton earned an Oscar nod for her work, which is a touch dated and over the top at times, but still manages a few moments that are truly unsettling. Gail Patrick who plays the villainous Bianca in My Favorite Wife is here playing a prototype of that character.

The best thing about Stage Door is that at its heart it is about friendships between women. Unlike The Women, it's not all about men, though there are a few token members of that sex in Stage Door. The way the actresses talk and interact is the real joy of the movie. There is a gritty realism here from the lousiness of the food to the lumpiness of the mattresses and one instantly senses that all the cynical wisecracks and toughness hide genuine vulnerability.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mary of Scotland: a partial, imperfect and ignorant history

No, it's not another leg tribute (but it could be.) Frederich March as the James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, traditionally historic villain and hero of Mary of Scotland. Hepburn was an ancestor of actress Katharine Hepburn who starred in the film and as such the treatment of Bothwell in the film was softened so as to not offend her. Bothwell is always referred to as "Bothwell" in the movie, perhaps to avoid confusion with the actress and the Earl.

I watch a lot of costume dramas. You might say that everything I know about history has been at least supplemented or more likely warped by their influence. It's been more than a decade since my last proper class in history and I've never been much for reading it for fun. To paraphrase Jane Austen, I am a partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian. Such poor qualifications didn't stop Jane and they won't stop me from expounding on the topic. In her hilarious youthful satire, The History of England, Austen paid comically little attention to wars and most of her comments in the Tudor era are directed at praising Mary Queen of Scots and castigating Queen Elizabeth the Ist for her treatment of the Stuart queen. Jane came down firmly on the side of Mary of Scotland and so did the makers of the film by the same name, director John Ford, and writers John Dudley and Maxwell Anderson.

The film begins with Queen Elizabeth (Florence Eldridge) opining the return of Mary Stuart (Katharine Hepburn) from Scotland. Stuart was a rival to her throne and Elizabeth is warned by her advisers that she must not let Mary land safely in Scotland. Elizabeth's plan to intercept Mary fails and she is allowed to take her throne, in doing so she supplants her half brother the Earl of Moray who has been Regent in her absence. Mary quickly discovers that she can not trust Moray or the other Lords who've set themselves up as her counsel. They want her to renounce her religion and send her personal secretary, David Riccio, an ardent Catholic, back to France. Mary refuses and is backed up by the feisty Earl of Huntley (Donald Crisp, in a brave but wavering attempt at a Scottish accent). Huntley is out-numbered until the Earl of Bothwell shows up to keep the Lords in line.

In typical classic movie fashion their first meeting is flirtatious and full of innuendo. I said in a post earlier this week that Rossano Brazzi was the only man to look at Katharine Hepburn with naked lust on screen, but that was before I saw Frederick March as Bothwell. March is wonderful in love scenes as he has a very direct manner that is also tender and self-effacing without being studiously so.

Bothwell not only frightens the rebel Lords into submission he controls the border more effectively than it has been in years, an act which impresses both Mary and Queen Elizabeth who has been jealously hearing stories about Mary's court full of admirers. With suitors aplenty, Mary contends she will never marry again, though it is clear that she is in love with Bothwell. Riccio advises her to marry Lord Darnley who has the claim to the English throne as well as being Catholic. This leads to some unintentional comedy as Hepburn continually address Riccio as "David" in a voice and manner so similar to her pursuit of David Huxley (Cary Grant) in Bringing Up Baby that I couldn't help but make the occasional leopard joke.

Mary hesitates as long as possible but eventually consents to marry Darnley whom she loathes. In a great scene that could only happen in the movies, Bothwell kicks down Mary's door and demands to know whether she loves him and why she will marry Darnley. The film's portrayal of Darnley is a master stroke because Douglas Walton not only looks like pictures of the real-life lord, but he plays him with a combination of cowardly ambition and dissipation that is pretty close to the mark. The film substitutes alcoholism for Darnley's syphillis in a probable concession to the production code.

After their marriage Darnley's weaknesses grow more pronounced: he stays away from home, seeming not to care about the health of his newborn son and he is continually jealous of the influence of David Riccio, a jealousy which Moray and his lords encourage. Darnley agrees to have Riccio killed and in an intense scene which is close to the real-life incident, Darnley has his soldiers drag Riccio from the queen's apartment, where they stab him, within view of the queen and her ladies. Though in real life Darnley wasn't present at the murder, the film version makes him so, perhaps to remind the audience of his guilt in the crime. Darnley quickly realizes his mistake when the Lords talk next of removing Mary from power. Without Mary, he will have nothing, so the pair are reunited by a need for survival. Bothwell arrives and is disgusted by Darnley's cowardice and both he and Mary wish they could be rid of her husband. Bothwell pledges, somewhat ominously to serve Mary forever. Now this is the point in the movie, where I wondered if they were going to imply that Bothwell was responsible for Darnley's death which is the most common historical view of Bothwell. But the scenes that lead up to the explosion at Kirk o Fields (by the way Darnley didn't die in the explosion , he was found strangled outside the castle in his nightshirt after the dust cleared from the blast) imply that it was Queen Elizabeth working with Moray and his cronies who were responsible for Darnley's death. Whether or not this is true, it is unlikely that Bothwell was responsible as was the finding of several several modern reassessments published in the 1930s, which probably influenced playwright Maxwell Anderson.

Bothwell saves Mary who is under attack from the rebel Lords who want to imprison her for Darnley's death and put her son on the throne, while making Moray regent again. Bothwell and Mary flee, getting married along the way. The film makes it clear that the supposed abduction of Mary by Bothwell, was a transparent ploy to distance Mary from Darnley's murder, since Bothwell was the chief suspect in the crime. Huntley refuses to go along with abduction scheme and thinks their marriage is foolish and he breaks with the couple. After three weeks of marriage, Bothwell decides to leave to raise an army to defend Mary and take back the throne. In real-life the Lords confronted Bothwell and Mary in battle at Carbury Hill. Hopelessly outnumbered, Mary agreed to surrender on the condition they let Bothwell go. Mary is imprisoned, escapes and is tricked again into being imprisoned in England. Meanwhile Bothwell is imprisoned in Denmark where he dies of a fever. This collapses a series of jailings, escapes, battles and betrayals that ended with Mary's imprisonment in Tutbury Castle in 1589 and Bothwell's internment in a notorious dungeon in Denmark.

Jane Austen contended that Elizabeth I was entirely responsible for the imprisonment and execution of Mary and that all her ministers and advisers who are often pointed to as being to blame for giving her bad advice on the matter are not as guilty as the sovereign. This is undeniably sound reasoning, couched in elegantly ironic terms which would seem at first glance to praise Elizabeth, but in reality amounts to an extended spleen venting. And that is exactly what Mary of Scotland contends as well, that the plot against Elizabeth's life supposedly emminating from Mary was a frame-up designed to give Elizabeth an excuse to kill her rival to the throne. The movie combines the inquiry into Darnley's death that was conducted years earlier and her trial for treason in that principal evidence against her are forged letters. Mary is tried, found guilty and executed with her last moments on the scaffold, imagining that she hears Bothwell's pipers riding to her rescue.

Mary of Scotland had as one of its taglines, the phrase "One of histories great love stories" which may or may not be true. Accounts of the relationship between Bothwell and Mary vary from the seriously anti-Bothwell version which contends that Bothwell abducted and raped Mary to the "realist" view that Mary allowed the abduction in order to distance herself from Bothwell, who was the chief suspect in her husband's murder and that she married him because he was her closest ally and supporter. In real life Bothwell was married during the period that he and Mary fall in love in the film. His first wife divorced him after he impregnanted one of their servants. Bothwell also had two common law wives in Scandanavia before he was married to his Scottish wife. Since common law marriages weren't recognized in Scotland, he could never be charged with bigamy, but it still wasn't a very nice way to operate. And his double dealing caught up with him when he was arrested in Norway after he fled Scotland, since one of his common law wives had risen to prominence and was an eager witness against him at his hearing. No mention of Bothwell's wives or paramours is made in the movie. Nor is there any mention of Mary's pregnancy with twins and miscarraige of Bothwell's children while in captivity. I actually like the romantic view that the film takes of the couple and think that it fits in with many of the facts of their lives. Afterall Mary surrendered her throne on the condition that Bothwell be allowed to go free--not exactly the actions of a woman who'd been raped or coerced into marriage. Other minor incidents support the view of a real affection between the pair. Before Darnley's death, just days after the birth of her son, James, she made a difficult journey to visit Bothwell who'd been quite seriously injured in a riding accident. Though she was there under the guise of state business, it seems plausible to me that there was a romantic pull for her. Bothwell and Mary first crossed paths in France when she was girl and he was responsible in part for her safe conduct from France to Scotland. He had served her mother dutifully and given his reputation as a handsome and charming ladies man, it's not hard to imagine that the young Queen would fall for a man who offered her political security as well as the romance clearly lacking in her first two political marriages. While Mary of Scotland fails to capture all the details of their relationship, it captures the spirit of it.

The film also captures the spirit of the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary, which was definitely one of history's great cat fights. In a wonderful scene before Mary's execution, Elizabeth comes to visit, offering Mary a chance to recant her claim to her throne in return for her life. Eldridge plays Elizabeth like an old school vamp, full of scorn, vanity and a falsely sweet varnish that fools no one. She is driven by fear, ambition, unnamed herat break, righteous anger and a tough intelligence. Interestingly she looks quite a bit like Bette Davis, and I think her performance here creates the "Elizabeth Template" that would be used up to the present day in Cate Blanchett's excellent performances. And indeed Betty Davis was cast to star in another adaptation of a Maxwell Anderson play The Private Lives of Elizabeth of Essex (1939). Mary is at first taken in by Elizabeth's softness and says that the sad thing is that they have so much in common and that they should have been friends. This may be a bit far-fetched or an an attempt to make Mary Queen of Scots into a saint, but in essence it is correct. Elizabeth and Mary were alike in that they were both Queens whose grasp on power was always slippery and who were forever under pressure to marry and produce an heir. They were compelled to be enemies and the film implies that at least part of Elizabeth's enmity is fueled by personal jealousy of her younger, more popular cousin. Elizabeth chose to remain single and consolidate her power through constant maneuvering. Mary chose to marry for her throne, and perhaps, for love. In the end Mary says she doesn't regret the decision she made a bit and she predicts that history will condemn Elizabeth for her treatment of her and that her son, James will one day become King. Both of these predictions came true and yet certainly, Elizabeth could not have regretted the decisions she made either, for they allowed her to rule half a century, save England from Spanish invasion and raise the country to a position of power in the world. Her reign gave us Shakespeare and an English presence in the New World. England and America would not be the countries they are today without her vision. Mary Queen of Scots is a rather sad, romantic sideshow in all other histories but those penned by Jane Austen and Maxwell Anderson.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: A Tribute to Stewart Granger's legs

Vivian Leigh checks out Granger's legs in Caesar and Cleopatra.

Some actors have memorable voices, soul-piercing eyes or unforgettable dimples. Some never miss an opportunity to take off their shirt, roll up their sleeves, unbutton their collar or some other shameless trick to show off their torso.

Stewart Granger looked really good without pants. It's not every actor who can appear in tights on not look silly. Olivier could manage it. He had the gravitas and nice legs. For my money, no one really can touch Stewart Granger for excellence sans pantalons. From his first pants-less role as Apollodorus in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) to the David Lee Roth tights in Scaramouch (1952) to the thigh high boots he wore in Young Bess (1953) and Prisoner of Zenda (1952) his legs were out there on display, walking away with all the glory.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cupidon's Blog

Bojour Cherie!

I am Cupidon! Pint size companion to Clio Dulaine. I know all the dirt of the people here abouts in Saratoga Springs. I smoke cigars with Mr. Clint and he says I should "start one a them there blogs on the internets." So here I am to give you all the gossip.

They say charity begins at home so I will give the goods on Mrs. Dulaine. First of all. She is not a countess. She wants me to call her "her ladyship," but that is just a little joke with us. Just like Mr. Clint was never a colonel in the army. Second of all Angelique is not black. She is a white woman in make-up. I think Clio thinks it is more chic to have black maid so she makes Angelique put on the make-up. But I ask you, what is the deal with the eyebrows? She went crazy with the eyebrows.

Now you might have heard a word or two around the Springs about Mrs. Dulaine and Bartholomew Van Steed. I think, meh, she likes his money, but she is in love with Mr. Clint. You watch, Cherie, she will always go back to Mr. Clint even though his idea of money is winning $500 in a card game. Did she not follow him here from New Orleans? She may talk about getting revenge for her mama and marrying a rich man, but I can tell, in her heart it is all Clint, Clint, Clint all the time. Let me tell you another thing, Cherie. That door between their rooms is never locked, not even once. They are alike those two. Always lying, always angry and always scheming to "get the other fella first be he gets you."

The big talk around Saratoga Springs is the railroad, the so-called Saratoga Trunk line between the coal fields and the rest of New York. Bartholomew Van Steed owns it, but Mr. Soule and his cronies are trying to get it away from him in the courts. So Mr. Clint says he should hire some tough guys and take it back, station by station. I tell Mr. Clint when the day comes to fight, Cupidon will be there by his side. I despise Mr. Soule because when Mrs. Dulaine addressed him he sat there in his seat like a lump. Maybe she is only a pretend countess, but still a gentleman should stand up and greet her. He is no gentleman and he will not keep the railroad. Oh no, Cupidon will see to that.

I should say something about the social scene here. Everyday the place to see and be seen is at the spring drinking the waters. As usual with these things the water is terrible, nasty stuff. It was a mystery to me how this place could be so popular-- a musty old hotel full of rich stuffed turkeys drinking disgusting water? That was until I met Mrs Coventry Bellop. As Mr. Clint says, she is one tough old battle ax. (He say that to me in private, not to Clio because she likes Mrs. Bellop.) Now this Bellop uses her influence to make the resort popular among her set of folks. If they decide to go elsewhere she convinces them to stay because she knows the dirt on all of them, even more than Cupidon! They are all scared of Mrs. Bellop, even Mrs. Van Steed, Bartholomew's mama. Oh, Mrs. Bellop should write a blog too! But that would not do because she makes her living by keeping her mouth shut. In return for this service, the hotel overlooks her bills. It is quite an arrangement. I guess she sees something of herself in Mrs. Dulaine, so she has decided to keep quiet about New Orleans and all of our mischief there for free.

Well, that is about all for now, Cherie. Angelique is coming to roust me for an errand. I better post this before she can stop me.

Au revoir!