The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley a couple weeks ago. I had heard of this film previously, after having seen Robert Siodmak’s amazing film noir, Phantom Lady (1944). Through this film, I discovered Ella Raines, an actress I’d heard about, but had never seen in a film. I loved her and thought she brought a new breed of leading lady to film noir. I liked that she took charge of the search for her boss’ (and secret crush) alibi. She did what she needed to do to find the truth and free her boss from an inevitable execution. Phantom Lady was produced by Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock’s protegee.
After the success of Phantom Lady, Harrison and Siodmak teamed up for another film noir, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. They cast Raines again, as one of the leads in the film. With these pieces in place, plus the addition of George Sanders whom I loved in All About Eve, Lured, and Foreign Correspondent, made me want to see this film. I was so excited to see The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry on TCM’s schedule! After seeing the film… I liked it, but oy vey. The ending. The ending gets a big thumbs down. In fact, despite my liking the film as a whole, the ending was such a bummer that it completely ruined the third act of the film.
In The Strange Affairs of Uncle Harry, Sanders plays the titular “Uncle Harry (Quincy).” He works at the local textile mill designing patterns for their fabrics. His younger co-workers call him “Uncle Harry” as a term of endearment, but Harry implores them to stop–“Uncle Harry” makes him feel old. Harry is approaching middle-age and is very lonely. He lives at the Quincy Family’s large home with his two sisters. The Quincy Family were well-off at the start of the twentieth century; however they lost their fortune during the Great Depression. All that was left was the family home.
Harry’s older sister, Hester (Moyna MacGill aka Angela Lansbury’s mother), is a widow. She loved her late husband very much and it is obvious that she is unhappy living with her siblings. She desperately tries to help keep house, but is constantly at odds with their maid, Nona (Sara Algood), who doesn’t appreciate Hester invading her domain. Harry’s younger sister, Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald), is a spoiled, lazy, witch (with a capital B) who regularly feigns illness to keep Harry by her bedside.
One day at work, Harry meets Deborah Brown (Raines), a young designer from New York City. She is hired to work at the textile factory. She and Harry hit it off and suddenly Harry has a reason for living. He and Deborah fall in love and plan to marry–much to Lettie’s chagrin. Harry asks his two sisters to move to another home. Because she has no intention to leave Harry and move, Lettie continually finds fault with every single prospective home. I wondered why Harry and Deborah didn’t just move into another home, but apparently that was not an option–for whatever reason. Lettie then discovers that Harry and Deborah plan to elope in New York City and she goes to work to sabotage the marriage and Harry’s chance at happiness.
It is obvious from the get-go that there is more than meets the eye with Harry and Lettie’s relationship. They are unusually close for siblings and there is a weird, romantic undertone. In the original play, the incestual element was very obvious; however, this had to be played down for the movie version due to the production code. While I don’t need to see sibling incest in a film, the production code unfortunately had a bigger impact on the film’s ending.
The ending of the film is so absurd. My husband and I watched it and were like “Wait?! What?!” The ending is such a let-down and it completely undermines all the tension and drama built up in the third act of the film. Had the film just ended a couple minutes earlier, it would have been a completely different experience. The original play’s action ended where I wanted it to end, however production code dictated a different ending. Boo Joseph Breen! Apparently there were five different endings filmed for this movie and the ending with the best reaction from the test audiences was chosen. As a representative of a modern 2021 audience, I’d like to tell the 1945 audience that they chose a terrible ending.
I don’t normally like to waste time writing negative reviews and while I liked most of this film, the ending was such a bummer that I can’t get past it and have to spend my time venting about it.
Joan Harrison walked out on her Universal contract over this ending.
This is one of the ultimate classics that I should have seen by now, but hadn’t until a couple days ago. In this film, Greer Garson stars as Kay Miniver, who is referred to often as “Mrs. Miniver.” Mrs. Miniver is portrayed as a very kind, beautiful woman. She is very warm and welcoming and treats everyone the same across the board, regardless of class or status. She seems to be well liked by everyone in her English village, especially by James Ballard (Henry Travers), the local train engineer. He shows Kay a rose that he cultivated in his garden outside the train station–a beautiful red rose that he’s named “Mrs. Miniver” in honor of Kay. He basically says that he named it after her because of the kindness that she shows him again and again when she visits his station.
Anyway, Kay along with her husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon) live in a beautiful estate named “Starlings,” on the River Thames. Clem is also part of the River Patrol and is enlisted to help out in the Dunkirk evacuation at one point in the film. Kay and Clem live at the estate with their two young children. Their oldest son, Vincent aka “VIn” (Richard Ney) attends Oxford. He comes home as Germany’s invasion into England is imminent during WWII. He announces his intention to enlist in the Royal Air Force because he wants to do his part. Kay of course doesn’t want her son in the war, but knows that they’re all in the fight with Germany together.
At the same time, Vin meets Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the granddaughter of the very wealthy Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty). Lady Beldon is very much “old money” and resents the lower classes trying to acquire the same material possessions that she and her fellow rich folk enjoy. She basically doesn’t want the middle class trying to be upper class. Anyway, there is a conflict when Vin and Carol fall in love and want to marry. Meanwhile, during all of this, Germany officially invades England and the Minivers are right in the midst of all the “action” (so to speak).
This was a heartbreaking film. I’m not one to cry at movies and I didn’t at Mrs. Miniver, but I can see how someone would. There are so many emotional scenes, some tragic and some happy. The scene of the Minivers hunkered down inside of their shelter while bombs blasted all around them was very suspenseful and scary. I cannot even imagine being confined to this small little bunker while bombs are literally falling down all around you, shaking your shelter. I can just imagine how scary it would be knowing that you could possibly emerge from the shelter and your home is leveled to the ground. I thought the scene with Kay and the German soldier was very suspenseful and also showed the strength of Kay’s character. She remains so stoic throughout the entire scene and throughout the film.
I loved this film. It was fantastic. I loved this film so much in fact, that I bought the Blu Ray right after seeing it. I love wartime dramas and this is definitely one of the best. I wish I had seen it earlier. I also forgot how much I liked Greer Garson. I think I have a bunch of her films on my DVR that I’ll need to prioritize.
When deciding what movie to watch, I often find myself deciding upon a film based on a specific actor, a specific director, certain genre… whatever I happen to be obsessed with at the moment. It’s probably because of these kicks that many of the classic era’s biggest classics, e.g. Gone With the Wind have not yet made it to my DVD/Blu Ray player. Anyway, right now, I’ve been watching and seeking out Ralph Meeker.
I discovered Ralph Meeker as the antagonist in Jeopardy (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan. In Jeopardy, Stanwyck plays a woman who is racing against time (and the tide) to try and find help for her husband played by Sullivan. Sullivan ends up becoming trapped under a wooden piling when he tries to save his and Stanwyck’s son from being seriously injured on a collapsing, dilapidated jetty. Sullivan cannot free his leg, and neither Stanwyck nor their young son are strong enough to move the piling. To make matters worse, the tide is coming in. If Sullivan isn’t saved soon, he will drown.
Stanwyck leaves Sullivan at the beach in search of someone who can help. She comes across Lawson, played by Meeker, a man who seemingly wants to help her and her husband. However, it is revealed that Lawson is an escaped convict and basically uses Stanwyck as a way to escape the police. Meeker’s Lawson is terrifying, but also really hot, in that dangerous kind of way. He’s the type of dangerous that only seems sexy in the movies–in real life, you’d be scared to death and calling 911.
Anyway, after seeing Jeopardy, I started seeking out more Ralph Meeker films. Unfortunately Meeker seems like he had more success on television and on the stage than in film; but he does have a good sized filmography to keep me going for awhile.
One such film that I watched recently was Something Wild (1961) starring Meeker and Carroll Baker. This is a film that I’d seen on the Criterion shelves often, but had never seen it. I’d actually recorded it on TCM back when Baker was honored one day during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. After getting on my Ralph Meeker kick, I was ready to watch this film. I’d also heard that this film was somewhat bleak and stressful at times. It seemed like a film that you’d have to be in the mood for and one that you’d watch at night.
Anyway, I loved Something Wild. I thought it was a fantastic film. In this movie, Baker plays Mary Ann, a college student who is attacked and raped by an unknown assailant. Normally, I do not like films that feature rape. Fortunately however, the rape scene was not graphic and the director chose to use specific close-ups and shots to get the idea across as to what was happening, but did not actually show anything. Anyway, Mary Ann is understandably traumatized and terrified.
Mary Ann tries to get her life back together and put her trauma behind her. She even goes as far as to destroy every piece of clothing that she was wearing the night she was attacked. Mary Ann doesn’t tell her mother or stepfather what happened. I get the sense that she felt shame, embarrassment and also was traumatized to the point that she just wanted to put it past her. While trying to ride the subway to get to school, Mary Ann faints when a large mob of people rush on and squeeze her into other people. Her PTSD would affect her later when her co-workers do the same thing to her and she has to go home and vomit. The police end up bringing Mary Ann home, much to the horror of her prim and proper mother. Mary Ann’s mother, instead of asking why the police are bringing her home, chooses instead to go on a tirade about what the neighbors will think. It’s obvious that if Mary Ann were to reveal to her mother the true source of her anxiety, her mother would make it about herself and make Mary Ann feel even worse.
Mary Ann ends up leaving home (without telling her mother or anyone else, causing her to be a “Missing Person” for much of the film) and finds a gross apartment in a tenement for $5/week. Her neighbor is Jean Stapleton (aka Edith Bunker) whose constant drinking and carousing with men brings Mary Ann much stress. Mary Ann’s job at the five and dime isn’t much better, as her co-worker, Doris Roberts (grandma from “Everybody Loves Raymond”) is very abrasive and gossips behind Mary Ann’s back about her aloofness and quiet nature.
One day, Mary Ann decides to end everything and prepares to jump off a bridge. She is saved right before jumping by Mike (played by Meeker), a mechanic. Mike takes Mary Ann to his home so that she can relax and rest. Mike’s home isn’t much better than Mary Ann’s. It’s sparsely decorated with only the basic essentials. Mary Ann at first is hesitant to go to Mike’s home (because duh, he’s a stranger), but acquiesces when he assures her that he’ll be at work all day. Mike at first seems like a sweet man, but it becomes clear that he’s troubled when he arrives home from the bar completely trashed. He’s so drunk that he can barely walk. He sees Mary Ann and tries to force himself on her. She is able to fight him off and he passes out. She spends the rest of the evening understandably terrified.
For most of the remainder of the film, Mike will not allow Mary Ann to leave. He is able to lock the door from the inside and outside and always has the key on his person. At the beginning, one might think that Mike’s just keeping her inside so that he can make sure she won’t harm herself. However, it becomes apparent that Mike has other motives for keeping Mary Ann at his house. As the audience, I should be upset and turned off that Mike is holding Mary Ann hostage; but it becomes clear that this man is troubled. He is lonely. No, he shouldn’t be keeping her hostage, but he is afraid of being alone. He doesn’t want to be alone.
Both Ralph Meeker and Carroll Baker bring a lot of emotion and complexity to their portrayals of their characters. Meeker is a troubled man, who seemingly only wants someone to love and take care of him. Baker is trying to overcome emotional trauma caused by a stranger, and is basically forced to trust a strange man that he won’t bring her harm. I really enjoyed this film and would watch it again. I loved the gritty setting, the great music and the performances of Meeker and Baker.
I’ve changed one of the pages on my blog from “Film Reviews” to “Clearing the DVR.” I currently have 300+ films saved on my DVR. It is 70% full. I really need to clear up some room before I run out. 99% of my recordings are off of TCM. The other recordings are PBS, a Me-TV documentary about Rose-Marie (Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show), and the colorized I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas Specials that aired back in December. My issue is that for every movie I watch and delete, I end up recording three in its place. My other issue is that I end up watching a movie I’ve seen multiple times, because it’s what I’m in the mood for and nothing else will suffice. For example, even though I’ve seen this movie like five times now, I’m watching Gidget Goes Hawaiian.
I’ve started the “Clearing the DVR” feature here at Whimsically Classic as a means to motivate myself to watch some of the films I’ve recorded and hopefully clear up some space–so that my husband is able to record all his episodes of Archer on FXX before I steal all the space. Typically when I finish watching a film I’ve recorded, I mentally rate it using the following criteria: 1) Did not care for film, would not watch again; 2) Liked the movie, but do not feel that I need to re-watch it; or 3) Loved the movie and must procure my own copy. Often times, if I’ve decided that I loved the film and want my own copy, I will keep the film on the DVR until I’ve located a copy. There are also films that I love, Penelope (1966) for example, that are not on DVD. Storing it on the DVR is the only way to “own” a copy of the film! Honestly, if it weren’t for the DVR, I wouldn’t get to watch anything!
A couple nights ago, I watched The Enchanted Cottage. I recorded this film a few nights ago on TCM. After reading its praises on the TCM Message Board, I decided to give The Enchanted Cottage a whirl. I am also a big fan of Dorothy McGuire and knowing that she starred in this film gave me another reason to record it. I really enjoy watching McGuire’s performances. Unlike peers like Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr (to name a few examples), McGuire portrayed more ‘normal’ (for lack of a better word) women. I think McGuire was very pretty, but in a more natural type of way. She wasn’t overly made up to look glamorous–she had a more attainable, average type beauty. I also like McGuire’s characterizations. She portrays women with real issues, women who overcome adversity and hardship to get ahead. She is so subtle in her performances. As much as I love Bette Davis, she loves to chew the scenery (as they say). McGuire’s characters convey so much sympathy, tragedy, etc. through small facial expressions or inflections in her voice.
One of McGuire’s most spectacular performances, in my opinion, takes place in The Enchanted Cottage. McGuire co-stars with Robert Young as one-half of a couple who fall in love despite their physical shortcomings. Their love story is framed within a story about an enchanted cottage. The story begins with Herbert Marshall, a blind pianist, who is holding a dinner party for McGuire and Young’s characters who have recently fallen in love and married. Marshall is also their neighbor. Even though he cannot see, Marshall has seen McGuire and Young’s love for one another grow throughout their courtship. Marshall has written a “tone poem” (a poem set to music) about his neighbors’ (and friends’) love. McGuire and Young are late. Out of respect for his other guests, Marshall begins his poem about the enchanted cottage.
The enchanted cottage resides in a small New England town. According to the stories that have been told throughout the years, during World War I, a young newlywed couple built a beautiful estate in the country. The gorgeous home was razed by fire and only one wing could be saved. That wing was converted into a small cottage which the owner then rented out to young newlywed couples. The legend says that honeymooning couples experience magic in the cottage– a testament to their love. A widow, Mildred Natwick, currently owns the estate and works to keep it maintained. She curiously keeps a calendar dated 4-6-1917.
Fast forward some 25 years later (right after Pearl Harbor) and an engaged couple (Young and Hillary Brooke) wire Natwick about renting the cottage. Despite her reservations, they’re not officially married after all, Natwick agrees to rent them the cottage. She advertises for a maid to come to the cottage to help her out. McGuire shows up on her doorstep to apply for the position. McGuire’s character is not beautiful in this film. In fact, it’s mentioned multiple times by other characters and by McGuire, that she is “homely.” Personally, I didn’t think McGuire was unattractive in this film. I thought she was pretty in an unconventional way. However, I could buy that she wasn’t considered beautiful.
I liked that McGuire’s homeliness wasn’t created via prosthetics and makeup. McGuire insisted that she could be plain looking by not wearing makeup, sporting an unflattering hairstyle and wearing ill-fitting clothing. Combine McGuire’s requests with bad lighting schemes and filmmakers were very adept at downplaying McGuire’s attractiveness and conveying the idea that she was “ugly.” In an era of the beauty queen, I think this was very brave on McGuire’s part to appear unattractive. Many of her peers were too vain to allow themselves to appear on-screen looking anything other than beautiful.
Natwick feels a connection with McGuire and agrees to hire her as a housekeeper. When Young and fiance Brooke show up, McGuire is immediately attracted to Young. He is an attractive man. Brooke immediately dismisses McGuire and the cottage. It’s not blatant, but it’s there. McGuire tries to play up the enchanted angle and shows Young and Brooke where previous lovers have etched their names into the window panes of the cottage. Young tries to use Brooke’s engagement ring to make the engraving and the stone falls out of its setting. Natwick tells them that it is because they aren’t actually married yet and only honeymooning couples can make the engraving. One gets the sense that the stone falling out of the engagement ring is foreshadowing.
Before they can marry, Young is called to duty in World War II. He is injured in a plane crash and now the right side of his face is disfigured. He also suffered nerve damage in his right hand. Young returns home to his fiance. Brooke ends up calling off the wedding. Depressed, Young returns to the cottage, hoping to stay. Natwick and McGuire agree to let him stay. As McGuire dotes on Young, he starts to see that she’s a caring and genuine person. They spend a lot of time together and it is apparent that they really care for one another. Neighbor Marshall shows up occasionally and despite being blind, he is able to see their love for one another grow.
Young ends up proposing to McGuire. At first, he has bad intentions when he proposes–his mother (Spring Byington), thinking that his disfigurement has ruined his life has proclaimed that he either must move home and live with her or she’ll move in with him. Not wanting to live with his mother, Young proposes marriage to McGuire. He realizes he’s being a jerk and discovers that he genuinely cares for McGuire. They marry.
After marriage, Young and McGuire discover that a physical transformation has taken place. Young’s scars and physical injuries are gone. McGuire is now beautiful. They are overjoyed and attribute their physical attractiveness to the power of the cottage. Natwick, who has been witnessing their romance since the beginning, seems hesitant to agree with them, but allows them to live in their fantasy. Byington and her husband, Richard Gaines, show up wanting to meet new daughter-in-law, McGuire. Upon seeing her appearance, Byington says something to the effect of how lucky it was for McGuire to marry, despite not being a pretty girl. This comment devastates McGuire. She realizes that no physical transformation has taken place for either her or Young. Natwick explains that the cottage really has no actual magic powers–it’s simply the power of love. Love causes a couple to look past any physical features and only see what they want to see.
While the message of this film is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and perhaps even “love conquers all,” it is a film with some very interesting ideas. In the 1940s, perhaps the lack of outward beauty was seen as a type of defect, something that someone should be ashamed of and trying to fix. In the 2010s however, the constant emphasis on Young and McGuire’s appearances almost seem abhorrent–especially when their appearance is nothing that they can help. However, I choose to look at this film from a romantic angle. Despite being practically shunned by society for how they look, McGuire and Young were able to look past it and see the qualities inside one another. Would the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” message be stronger if either McGuire or Young weren’t physically disadvantaged and fell in love with a conventionally gorgeous person? A la Beauty and the Beast? I am not sure. Is it better that two misfits (so to speak) fell in love? Or does it send the message that a misfit can only fall in love with another misfit?
This is a very interesting film to watch and analyze. I liked the dreamlike quality and how the love story played out. I also really liked Natwick’s support as the stoic widow who isn’t so much cold as she’s hoping that another couple will be in love as much as she and her husband were. I get the sense that she and her husband were the ones who built the estate. He was killed during World War I and the world essentially stopped for her. When McGuire and Young fall in love, she is so overcome by their romance, this gives her hope–so much hope that she finally updates her calendar to the current date. I also really liked Herbert Marshall. One, I really like his voice. Two, I think his blind pianist provided great support to McGuire and Young. He does not know how they look. He only knows that they are two kind people who have fallen in love. He is truly blind, literally and figuratively, when it comes to outward appearances.
This was a fascinating film and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. I have added this film to my running list of films to purchase.
I had heard about this film for a couple years now and had seen it listed at the top of various lists. It’s also a Criterion release. I finally got the chance to watch this film.
Brief Encounter is a British film that is based on the 1936 Noel Coward short play, “Still Life” which was one of ten short plays that were performed under the title “Tonight at 8:30.” In 1945, this short play was adapted into the 86-minute film and was directed by David Lean. Lean later went on to direct such films as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.
This was an excellent film. This film depicts a budding romance between two married people, Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard), both married to different people, and the subsequent guilt both experience as their newfound relationship continues to thrive and begins towing the line between platonic friends and infidelity. For much of the film, they grow closer and closer until they have an opportunity to make their relationship more physical. This is the turning point in the film. They begin by spending the day together every Thursday when they’re both in town. Soon, it grows to them getting really cozy with one another until they’re regularly smooching on the quaint, romantic bridge.
Laura is a privileged middle-class British mother and wife (she has a servant and doesn’t seem to have many obligations in the way of housework or tending to the children). She goes into town every Thursday for shopping and going to the latest movie matinee at the theater. She also regularly dines at the tea shop at the train station–this where she meets Alec, a doctor who once a week, does consultation work at the local hospital. Despite her cushy lifestyle, Laura is bored. Her husband doesn’t seem to pay much attention to her in the evenings, preferring to complete his crossword puzzle. Their evenings are the same every night. When she meets Alec, suddenly, her life is interesting and fun. She feels feelings that she hasn’t experienced in quite some time.
The beginning of the film starts at the ending of the story. Laura is back home, sitting across from her husband, watching him complete his crossword puzzle. She stares at him, knowing that he is blissfully unaware of what has been going on in her life. She imagines herself confessing everything to him. Her internal confession serves as the narration for the events of the film. Suddenly, we’re at the train station before Laura meets Alec. Throughout the film, her narration demonstrates how conflicted and distraught, yet happy, Laura is in her relationship. There is also a scene where Laura, while on an outing with Alec, sees two acquaintances in the tea room. Suddenly, she is embarrassed and worried that the secret of her new romance will get out. I believe that this scene and the one where she’s conflicted about making her relationship with Alec more physical demonstrate that deep-down, she knows that what she and Alec are doing is wrong.
Most of the action of the film unfolds without either Laura or Alec’s spouses in the scene. Laura’s husband is only seen intermittently, Alec’s wife is not seen at all. I believe that the lack of spouses in the picture allow us to see the story entirely from Laura and Alec’s perspective and allows us to feel for Laura and Alec. While they are thisclose to cheating on their respective spouses, I found it hard not to root for them to end up together.
In addition to the story, I also really liked how the film was shot. The black and white cinematography provided a romantic, moody atmosphere. The train station was a wonderful setting. Doesn’t it seem like the best films involve some sort of train travel? I also liked all the steam coming from the trains and the music that repeated each time Laura and Alec were together. There were many interesting shots used in the film. One of my favorite shorts showcased Laura sitting in the train. We see her from the side, but we can see her entire face in the reflection on the window. Laura’s self-reflection is literally being reflected on the glass for the audience to see.
I’ll admit that silent movies are not among my favorite genre of film. Recognizing that many of my favorite Golden Era performers came from the world of silent film, I try to watch some of their silent films, hoping that maybe I’ll find one that I like. Honestly, I feel like many of the silent films I try to watch are too over the top and I find that the dramatics detract from whatever the storyline is. I find myself getting bored and doing other things, or simply turning the film off because nothing “clicks” for me. Along with horror and science fiction (unless it’s of the cheesy B-movie variety), silent is among my bottom three favorite film genres.
However, with the recent TCM spotlight on Slapstick Comedy, I ended up catching The Circus (1928) with Charlie Chaplin. Even though it was silent, Chaplin’s brand of storytelling, combined with his physical comedy made the film mesmerizing. I ended up watching the subsequent silent film presented that evening–Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) with Buster Keaton and being equally enthralled. Perhaps Chaplin and Keaton will serve as a positive introduction to silent film.
Prior to TCM’s spotlight, I had recorded three Charlie Chaplin films: The Kid (1921); The Gold Rush (1925); and City Lights (1931). I recorded these films because: 1) Charlie Chaplin is a legend and I wanted to see his work; and 2) I wanted to give silent film another chance. I don’t want to immediately discount hundreds of films because they’re part of a genre that isn’t my favorite. With every film I watch, I go into it wanting it to become my next favorite film. While nothing will ever usurp The Long Long Trailer (my favorite film), I’ve found numerous films over the years that rank among my favorites. Surprisingly enough, one Charlie Chaplin film has now made it to my list of favorites–City Lights.
City Lights was released in 1931. It was Chaplin’s first film made since the advent of
“talkies.” He was somewhat daring when he wrote, produced, directed and starred in this film. And because he wasn’t busy enough, he also helped compose the score of this film as well. While other studios were producing sound films, Chaplin stuck with silent. He spent two years (1928-1930) working on City Lights.
City Lights has a very simple story: The Little Tramp falls in love with a blind Flower Girl and she falls in love with him, thinking he’s a millionaire. The Little Tramp learns that she and her grandmother are facing eviction because they cannot come up with the $22 worth of back rent. He makes it his mission to raise the money to save his love’s home. Among the many tactics he tries: a fixed boxing match, taking a job as a street sweeper, borrowing money from his millionaire “friend” (who only recognizes The Little Tramp when he’s inebriated) and finally in desperation, theft.
There are many great scenes in this film. The scenes between The Little Tramp and his inebriated millionaire friend are hilarious. At the beginning of the film, after The Little Tramp prevents the depressed, drunk Millionaire from committing suicide, he ends up not only getting a place to sleep that evening, but also a change of clothes. The next morning, the sober Millionaire, upset about a stranger being in his bed, demands The Little Tramp to leave. Later that evening, drunk again, the Millionaire sees his “friend,” The Little Tramp, out on the street and invites him in for a lavish party. The next morning, while leaving for a cruise, the sober Millionaire again tosses his “friend” out.
My favorite parts of the film however, dealt with The Little Tramp and the blind Flower
Girl. Their scenes together are so adorable. The Little Tramp very much loves this girl and wants to do anything he can to help her. He goes through great lengths to try and not only save the Flower Girl and her grandmother’s home, but he also wants to do something to improve the Flower Girl’s life–he wants nothing more than for her to be able to see. The ending of the film, where The Little Tramp and the Flower Girl are reunited after months of not seeing each other is probably one of the best film endings of all time–and one of the most romantic. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s so simple and so sweet.
In City Lights, Chaplin’s fifth full-length film, he continues to demonstrate his ability to mix physical comedy (e.g. the boxing match and the scenes with the Millionaire) with the romantic (e.g. the beginning and ending scenes with the Flower Girl) and even at times, the sad (e.g. the scene where The Little Tramp goes to jail) is just one of the reasons he was such a legend and genius in film-making. Straight slapstick shtick often gets tiring (e.g. The Three Stooges). Chaplin manages to not only make The Little Tramp sympathetic, but he makes him funny. The Little Tramp is a well-meaning, sweet man who just wants love. He’s poor and has to do whatever it takes to survive, but he has a good heart and deserves more than he has. Despite what he lacks in material possessions, The Little Tramp more than makes up for in kindness.
Finally, another reason why I enjoyed this film were the clever tactics that Chaplin used to convey plot points in his films without using sound. For example, in the beginning of the film where The Little Tramp meets the Flower Girl for the first time, there are a few tricks that Chaplin employs to set up the characters. The Little Tramp, traveling with the Millionaire, spies the Flower Girl selling flowers. He asks the Millionaire for money to purchase all of the girl’s flowers. The Little Tramp borrows the Millionaire’s Rolls Royce and returns to the Flower Girl’s vending spot. She hears the car drive up and then The Little Tramp purchases all of her flowers. Then, she drops one of flowers and doesn’t notice–this is when The Little Tramp realizes she is blind. As she’s making his change, a man gets into a nearby car. She hears the door slam and the car leave, and assumes that her wealthy customer has left. This simple scene sets up the premise: The Little Tramp falls in love with a blind Flower Girl who mistakenly believes that he is wealthy. Throughout the film, she believes that she has a wealthy suitor who is giving her money to save her home and saving her from eviction. Little does she know that her admirer is homeless, destitute and disheveled–all she knows is that he is sweet, caring and really seems to like her. This premise when combined with the wonderful ending, is what makes this film stand out from others. It would be easy to make the ending corny and saccharine, but through Chaplin’s genius, he’s able to deliver the perfect ending.
In the past, I had unfairly dismissed the Elvis Presley movies, thinking that they would be silly and lightweight–mostly an excuse to showcase Elvis and his music. And they probably are. However, I’ve now seen two Elvis films: Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock. I love Viva Las Vegas, it is such a fun movie. Elvis and Ann-Margret’s chemistry is off the charts, I actually wish they’d made more films together. In fact, I loved Viva Las Vegas so much, that I kept it on my DVR to watch over and over until I got my own copy. I think I watched it about four times before I got my own DVD copy of it. Anyway, Elvis definitely is no Spencer Tracy, Edward G. Robinson or even Fred Astaire, but he’s got enough personality and charisma that it makes up for what he’s lacking in the acting department.
Anyway… On to Jailhouse Rock.
I watched this movie last night. I’d seen the famous scene where Elvis sings the title song in front of the cell doors, but that’s pretty much all I knew of the film. Apparently, when viewing the “Jailhouse Rock” musical number, I never bothered to notice the fact that the “cells” have no walls, just the door. I always assumed that Elvis sang this song while in jail–figuring that maybe he led some sort of crazy choreographed jailbreak or something. I’m glad that this wasn’t the case. For an Elvis film, this film actually had a somewhat dark storyline.
The plot involves Elvis, a young man who gets off to a rough start when he fights a drunk man in a bar and inadvertently kills him. The man had been accosting a young woman in the bar and Elvis didn’t like it and punched him, which led to the brawl. Anyway, Elvis ends up being convicted of manslaughter and is sentenced to 1-10 years in jail. While in jail, he meets Mickey Shaughnessy (who I immediately recognized from Designing Woman), a has-been country singer who seems to have been in the clink for a while. Shaughnessy hears Elvis sing and promises to teach him how to play the guitar. He later convinces Elvis to perform in an upcoming inmate variety show which is also televised. After the appearance, Elvis receives gobs of fan letters. Jealous, Shaughnessy arranges to make sure Elvis doesn’t receive his fan letters. He then convinces Elvis to sign a “contract” promising to cut him in for 50% of the profits if Elvis becomes a star.
After almost two years, Elvis is released from jail, he gets a job at a nightclub where he meets a beautiful young woman, Judy Tyler. After hearing Elvis sing onstage (during an impromptu performance), she convinces him to record a demo for a local record studio. Elvis’ song ends up being stolen by another artist and he and Tyler form their own record label to produce his music. Elvis’ career takes off and his ego inflates with it.
I thought this was an entertaining film. Elvis’ character seems to be a bit quick tempered as he hits people frequently throughout the film. I thought that Tyler’s character somewhat evened out Elvis’ character. If he had a tendency toward being impulsive, she was more level headed and rational. I also really liked Tyler’s speaking voice. It was very elegant and clear, much like Eleanor Parker’s. Shaughnessy’s character was also interesting as he was a bit of a sleaze but you also felt bad for him as well.
The songs in the film were good too, my favorite though being “Jailhouse Rock.” Which actually isn’t performed in prison–it’s part of a prison-themed performance planned for the television special that Elvis is to appear in. Elvis “The Pelvis” is shown in all his glory in this musical number.
-Just days after completing production on this film, her first big role, Judy Tyler and her husband were killed in a gruesome car accident. She was only 24.
-Elvis’ apartment (after he makes it big) is simply a redressed version of Lauren Bacall’s apartment from Designing Woman.
-Elvis was so distraught after Judy Tyler’s death, that he couldn’t bring himself to watch the completed version of Jailhouse Rock.