Rivaling Gone with the Wind as one of the most picturesque, epic love stories ever, this one is set in Hong Kong, after WWII. Unlike GWTW, this one ends tragic, though of course, that is all I will say. Starring William Holden, who plays a war reporter, and Jennifer Jones, who plays a Eurasian doctor from China who encounters prejudice in Hong Kong, this is a sweeping tale of love and loss, happiness and sadness. With the Oscar-winning song playing in the background constantly, this film is sure to make any romantic satisfied.
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At the beginning of this Billy Wilder film, Sabrina Fairchild is an unassuming chauffeur’s daughter who has plain looks (OK – as plain as Audrey Hepburn can get!) and an intense infatuation with the employer’s son, David, played perfectly by William Holden (with blond hair!). After a stint in Paris at cooking school, she returns as a sophisticated woman, but still retains her crush on David. Enter David’s older and less carefree brother Linus, played by Humphrey Bogart, to muck up the ideal love affair Sabrina has in mind for she and David. Basically, that’s the plot in a nutshell. The performances make this film more than just your typical romantic comedy. Holden is perfect as the lollygagger David, who is much more interested in the ladies than in the family business. Bogart combines the right mix of stiffness and lovability to be a Linus we can actually imagine Sabrina being attracted to. Apparently, Hepburn and Holden did not get along well with Bogart while making this film. That lack of chemistry does not show up on screen…all of the characters’ interactions with each other seem natural and unforced. It is a little odd seeing the much older Bogart with the young Hepburn, but that’s Hollywood. Even back in 1954!
A comedy about a prisoner of war camp in Germany? With Nazis we can laugh at? Is this possible? Well, since nothing was impossible for director Billy Wilder, he (and co-writer Edwin Blum) took this stage play (by Donald Bevin and Edmund Trzcinski) and adapted it with comic brilliance for the screen. William Holden plays Sefton, one of the screen’s best love-to-hate-‘um/hate-to-love-‘um characters. Why does the audience feel this way about him? Well, Sefton is a curmudgeon and crook. He makes friends with the Nazis in order to get special perks. He has a foot locker filled with contra-band items that the other men would kill for. He basically is a guy who uses his time in the Army and in the prison to hone his schmoozing skills to get what he wants or needs. But, he’s funny. He’s like the class clown that you find yourself laughing with even though you think he’s distasteful and inappropriate. I like Holden and have seen most of his films. This is, in my opinion, the role Holden was born to play. He becomes Sefton…you forget that you’re watching an actor and you get caught up with the shady deals and craftiness. When the other men of Sefton’s barracks believe he is the “stooge” (or snitch) who is telling the Nazis about the escape plots, we feel sorry for him even though we are not quite sure whether we believe he’s innocent. He has proven he deals with the Nazis so maybe he is the snitch…or maybe not? Wilder’s filmmaking (along with Holden’s performance) seals this film as one of the best war films of its kind—or of any kind. Look for film director Otto Preminger as Colonel von Scherbach, who steals the few scenes he is in.
Gregory Peck stars as a gruff, hungry reporter who lucks out one day when he discovers the woman he found sleeping at the side of the road was princess Audrey Hepburn (in her Oscar-winning debut performance). He will do anything to get her story but cannot let her know what he does for a living. And, of course, as he does get to know her, they fall in love. Can they be together, though? Is she willing to give up her life as a princess? Is he willing to settle down? For a first starring film role, Hepburn shines as the naïve dreamer who craves more freedom. Peck is right on target as a hard-edged reporter who eventually finds his softer side.
Based on Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel, An American Tragedy, director George Stevens weaves a tale of love, sex, money and the trappings of all three. Montgomery Clift stars as George, a young man with dreams of power and success, but who has lived his life in a lower middle-class environment…up until now. He decides to “hit up” a distant, very prosperous relative for a job and once he gets his foot into the door of the life of luxury, there is no turning back for him. Elizabeth Taylor shines in her role as Angela, a beautiful socialite who falls for George, almost as hard as he falls for the life of extravagance. Clift really brings George and all of his greed and passions alive here. In some movies I always found him kind of stiff. But, here he’s so determined and tragic…yet sympathetic at the same time. Look for Shelley Winters in a key role as George’s non-upscale girlfriend…this is one of her first big roles and she does a brilliant job of capturing the desperation of her character.
No, NOT the 1993 remake…but rather the 1950 original with William Holden and the incomparable Judy Holliday. This version is a screen classic…winning Holliday a Best actress Oscar and helping build a long career for William Holden. But, Holliday is the true star of this film…with her trademark naïve and squeaky voice, she steals the film…and audiences’ hearts. This is the story of a powerful, wealthy, yet highly unsophisticated man (played with just the right tones of comedy and anger by Broderick Crawford) who comes to Washington D.C. for some business dealings, bringing his not-so-bright girlfriend (Holliday) with him. Thinking she’s embarrassing him, he tries to get her “trained” by a journalist (Holden) on the finer things in life. Everyone in this film, directed by the famed George Cukor, is top-notch, including Crawford, who’s perfect as a rough, tough businessman who needs a lot more “training” than Holliday. But, Holliday is just perfect here as the simple, uneducated girl who falls for her tutor. After Holden begins his training, her pseudo-intellectual talk is some of the funniest dialogue in films. She’s bubbly when she needs to be and serious when that’s called for…never missing a beat. A must for all film comedy fans!
Wait for a bumpy night and put this classic zinger on. This film revitalized Bette Davis’ ailing career and as soon as she speaks in this one, you will know it’s a performance she was born to play. Davis plays an acclaimed and long-standing Broadway actress who is the object of a wannabe starlet’s attention. At first, it seems the young upstart is just that…someone who is in awe at Davis’ mere presence. As the film goes on, we come to find out she’s much more than an impressionable, naive girl. The young girl, played by Anne Baxter, is great but Davis steals this movie right out from under her. Yes, this is the film that coined the phrase, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” And one could say the same about Davis’ performance here…strap yourself in because you will be surprised.
Can Cary Grant be a murderer? That is the question director Alfred Hitchcock attempts to answer in this film. Grant plays wandering playboy Johnny Aysgarth who catches the eye of rich, dull Lena, played in her Oscar-winning role by Joan Fontaine. The question that continually plagues the audience, and eventually Lena, is why did Johnny pick her. One of the more obvious reasons is her money, something which becomes almost a given after Johnny pawns some wedding gifts to gamble. The major flaw in this film is the end, but that is not the fault of Hitchcock nor the actors. Hitchcock wanted to remain faithful to the book this story is based on (Before the Fact by Francis Iles) and keep the dark ending, but his producers had trouble dealing with Cary Grant as a murderer. Even with that disappointing final scene, this is still a taut, tense thriller that will keep the audience guessing.
Alfred Hitchcock’s first film made in America, with producer David O. Selznick of Gone with the Wind fame, sealed the director’s fate as an established and successful filmmaker. Rebecca won the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, even though Hitchcock was overlooked as Best Director. This is not to say the film is without flaws. Joan Fontaine is supposed to play the innocent, naïve female lead, but she always seems much too old and sophisticated for the part, even though she does her best to seem demure. Aside from that, the film is a great thriller…one that will stand the test of time as a solid Hitchcock thriller. Laurence Olivier is pretty perfect as Maxim de Winter—we buy him as a tormented man—and Judith Anderson shines as the evil, sinister Mrs. Danvers. And, of course, Hitchcock’s camera captures the right tone and mood from the Daphne Du Maurier novel, allowing us to see Manderlay as a place of both happiness and nightmares.
This film is one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s more underrated films, especially since its only notoriety comes from introducing the song Que Sera Sera to the general public. Even though the famed director often copied styles and plot lines from some of his previous movies, The Man Who Knew Too Much stands alone as being the only true remake Hitchcock ever filmed—it is an updated version of Hitchcock’s own 1934 thriller of the same title. Taking the story of the 1934 film and enhancing it with location and character changes, the 1956 film is a terrific example of how a good film can become a great film. The movie stars Doris Day and James Stewart as an American couple visiting the French Morocco with their young son. After befriending a British couple, they soon find themselves embroiled in a series of terrifying events, including the kidnapping of their son. In addition to Hitchcock’s filmmaking, both Day and Stewart (appearing in his third of four collaborations with Hitchcock) make this film much more than just a standard thriller. The scene in the Royal Albert Hall in London stands out as one of the most intense, nail-biting scenes of pure suspense ever filmed. There is no dialogue and the scene lasts several minutes, but the anxiety of Day’s performance along with the climatic direction by Hitchcock keeps the viewer glued to the screen.