Jane Wyman as a middle-aged widow and Rock Hudson as her young gardener…sounds familiar, right? Well, the 2002 film Far From Heaven was loosely based on the plot. The biggest difference between the modern-day interpretation and the 1955 melodrama is that it was considered HIGHLY scandalous for an older woman to be involved with a younger man back then. Today, that would raise little more than an eyebrow, if that. In addition to the powerful, yet out-dated story, this film, directed by Douglas Sirk, features a breathtaking use of color. Sirk adds even more melodrama to the already syrupy scenes by wowing the audience through bold and expressive colors. From the clothes to the scenery (done on a set), the melodrama of the film is enhanced with the brightness and vibrancy of the colors. So, get your tissues ready and be prepared for some campy, sometimes corny dialogue but some visually stunning filmmaking.
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Hitchcockian, according to Wikipedia, is “a general term used to describe film styles and themes similar to those of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.” Being a Hitchcock fan, this term is like nails on a chalkboard for me…when misused. And, trust me, 99% of the time, it is misused. Brian De Palma is often called “Hitchcockian.” Um, excuse me…no, he’s just a copy-cat. Basically, the term has been tossed around by film critics since the Hitchcock era to signify any decent thriller. Hitchcockian has become WAY too over-used. It should not be used for ANY thriller…good or not. Hitchcock had a certain style, a certain elegance to his films that very few (if any) filmmakers have been able to duplicate over the years. Les Diaboliques is Hitchcockian. First of all, it was made in 1955, when Hitchcock was still alive and well and avidly working (the 1950s was probably his best and most accomplished decade). The story of Les Diaboliques is about two women (the wife and the mistress) who kill a man, only the have the dead body turn up missing. There are certain key differences between this film and Hitchcock’s work, of course, such as Les Diaboliques is devoid of the usual Hitchcock humor. But, on the whole, this is a great thriller…so Hitchcockian that the Master himself felt a little jealous of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot…maybe not jealous per se, but let’s just say Les Diaboliques was such a good thriller that Hitchcock felt some pressure. Do I think Hitch broke a sweat? Well, considering that he was and always will be the one and only Master of Suspense, I think he had very little to worry about.
This 1955 British comedy from Ealing Studios may be one of most riotous dark comedies in history. The story starts off easy enough (an old London lady serves as the facilitator of criminal activities for five men until their “perfect” plan goes horribly awry) but quickly turns into a series of farcical errors, most of which end in tragedy. This film seems to use the right combination of terror and comedy to create a funny yet dark tale. Alec Guinness is the main star of the film, even though a young Peter Sellers also appears as one of the five criminals, and the “Lady” played by adorable Katie Johnson does steal the show.
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.
After watching this film, saying “good morning” to folks takes on a whole new meaning. You say it and then just want to burst into song… “Good mornin’, good mo-o-ornin’… We’ve talked the whole night through…” etc. OK – maybe that’s just me. Maybe you won’t feel compelled to dance and sing around but I sure did after seeing this classic for the first time…and even subsequent times. Singin’ in the Rain is addictive. Yes, it is corny and hokey, but name a musical from the first part of the 20th Century that wasn’t. At least this one is poking fun at the movie industry and, in turn, itself. Unlike most of the Lerner/Loewe and Rogers/Hammerstein musicals of this same period, Singin’ in the Rain is more of a comedy than a drama. Well, OK, it does get pretty melodramatic but add Donald O’Conner to anything and comedy usually ensues. So, if you haven’t seen this one…or even if it has been a long time…check it out. When you walk into work tapping your toes, just sing “Good mornin’” to your co-workers and they will understand!
A classic Tracy/Hepburn comedy. Katharine Hepburn plays an athlete who excels in a variety of sports. Spencer Tracy plays a shady sports promoter who sees a perfect financial opportunity to be made with Hepburn. As their business relationship grows weary, their attraction increases, even though Hepburn is engaged to a dominating man who does not want her to keep playing sports. Not the best of the duo’s films, but it’s still one you should see.
A great screwball comedy from one of screwball masters, Howard Hawks. Not as good as Hawks’ 1940 classic His Girl Friday, this one is still better than most. Featuring Marilyn Monroe in one of her big roles, this film, like Friday, also stars screwball master Cary Grant in one of his goofiest roles ever. Parts of this film get way too silly but over-all, the combination of Hawks and Grant is just too much to resist.
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.