A Man for All Seasons (1966) – A Movie Review

This movie is the adaption of Robert Bolt’s play of the same name.  It is the story of Sir Thomas More.  He was a politician and a scholar who lived during the reign of King Henry the Eighth of England.  But most of all he was a principled and deeply religious man.  Being a personal friend of the King, he rose to the rank of Lord Chancellor but when Henry desired to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn it put him on a collision course with the Pope.  And when Henry declared himself the Head of the Christian church in England, Thomas More had to resign from his office.  But the powerful and unscrupulous Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, conspires to use More’s piety as a means of destroying him and ultimately have him executed.

And that is the plot of the movie.  Thomas More uses his considerable intelligence to walk the tight rope between maintaining his loyalty to the King and honoring his religious convictions.  But slowly and inexorably Cromwell cuts through that rope.

The movie is excellent.  The dialog is wonderful and intelligent.  The cast is great.  Cameos by Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey and Robert Shaw as Henry the Eighth are memorable but the main actors are Paul Scofield as Thomas More, Wendy Hiller as his wife Alice, Susannah York as his daughter Margaret and Leo McKern as the villainous Thomas Cromwell.  And there are other strong performances.  John Hurt plays the traitorous Richard Rich and Nigel Davenport is the colorful Duke of Norfolk.

The movie won the academy awards among others for Best Movie, Best Director and Best Actor for Paul Scofield.  And I think it deserved all of that.  I will caution the reader that I do enjoy theater and this is undoubtedly a play adapted for cinema.  It’s all about the dialog and the relationships of the principal character to the others.  And it is a tour de force for Scofield.  If you dislike plays this may not be for you.  But for me this is great storytelling.  The humanity and the intelligence of Thomas More are on full display.  I literally can’t say enough good things about this movie.

Highly recommended.

Something to Raise My Spirits

I was writing a post about what might be going on this year.  It was coming out pretty depressing and so I put it aside.  As I mentioned yesterday the Mid-Winter Blues have reached me.  Adding depressing predictions is just something I can’t justify at the moment.  I need something light to move me through my day.

So, I checked my almanac and sure enough we’re over the hump of winter. There are approximately thirteen weeks in winter and we’re in week eight. and the days are about 90 minutes longer than they were at Winter Solstice.  So, by any measure of sidereal momentum, we’re on the upswing.  In honor of this milestone, I will put all doom and gloom aside.  After all, the human soul needs hope and light to carry on.  That’s what I’ll do.

Here’s a video that lists the ten most conservative cities in the US.  The narrator is a little bit snarky, probably a liberal jerk but I still found it interesting.  I’m sure there are alternate lists but it’s a good starting point.  If you want to add a city to the list leave it in the comments.

And because I’m always looking for good science fiction movies here’s a video that claims to do that.  CineFix Top 10 Science Fiction Films of All Time  I agree with some of these picks disagree with a couple and have never seen a few others so I’ll check them out and maybe find something good.  If you disagree with any feel free to say.

And this just in, the idiots in the Senate have finally finished the farcical impeachment theater with seven cretinous Republicans voting with the Democrat creeps.  These were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.  Burr was a bit of a surprise.  I wonder if he’ll join Romney and Sasse in being primaried out by their states when they come up for re-election.  Let’s hope.

Well, look at that.  Now my spirits have lifted.  I’ll get on with reading the accounts of the farce and wait for President Trump to comment on it and then tell us what the future will hold.

Well see there now, seek and ye shall find.  Ask and ye shall receive.  A nice reward and we can hope that serious people will now step forward to start discussing what our side can do to sidestep what’s going on in Washington DC and begin to return our lives to something resembling the better world we lived in just one long year ago.  I only hope the smart and powerful decide to come to our aid.  They can make this easier and less ugly.  If the little people have to do it ourselves it’s going to be very painful and so ugly that I don’t even want to imagine it.  No one wants the United States to go through something like the fate of Yugoslavia.  But more and more it’s looking like that is how it will play out.  But that’s a discussion for another day.  Today I’ll just bask in a good ending for a mid-winter day.

Update:  Now it can begin.

You’re Telling Me! (1934) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Full disclosure, W.C. Fields’ characters as the hen-pecked but thoroughly disreputable husband represents in my opinion one of the pillars of the self-respecting American husband.  Although constantly set upon by his wife and family he refuses to knuckle and become bovinely domesticated.  Sometimes he’ll pretend to bow to convention for the sake of a short period of marital tranquility but we know that at any moment he might use the excuse of his mother-in-law’s spurious death as an excuse to skip work and go to the wrestling matches or throw away an inheritance by buying worthless land while following the dream of becoming an orange rancher.  It is this absurd and quixotic aspect of Fields’s characters that convinces me to excuse some of the infuriatingly boring routines that he loads into his movies.  And several of these routines are on maddening display in “You’re Telling Me!”  I’ll skip over the recurring gag of a drunken Fields getting his head and arms tangled in the ornamental ropes on his living room doorway drapery.  That is a mere couple of minutes of idiocy.  But at the climax of the film there is an eight-minute stretch of Fields attempting to drive a golf ball.  A lesser man would have turned it off after a few minutes.  But I soldiered on.  I had to see how Fields’ invention of bulletproof car tires would bring about the story’s happy ending.

I write this introduction to show the reader that I am aware that “You’re Telling Me!” is not a faultless masterpiece.  On the contrary, it’s a W.C. Fields movie which means it is a combination of awful physical comedy, brilliant verbal quips and tragicomical storytelling.  I am also aware that a taste for W.C. Fields is not a universal trait.  Far from it.  But being a true believer, I feel it’s my duty to advocate for the great man.

The premise of the story is that Fields’ character Sam Bisbee is trying to prove to his long-suffering wife Bessie that in addition to being a drunk he is also a great inventor.  He is on the brink of demonstrating his 1000% puncture-proof automobile tire to the National Tire Company.  At the same time Sam’s daughter, Pauline is in love with Bob, the son of the wealthy Murchison family that live on the other side of the tracks.  Bob’s mother is played by Kathleen Howard who played Fields’ wife in two of his other great movies, “It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”  She comes to visit the Bisbee house to forbid the romance but is delighted to find that Bessie is from an old money family from the Old South.  But immediately afterward Sam shows up and showcases enough boorishness to outrage Mrs. Murchison and in reaction to this rejection Pauline demands that Bob and his mother leave and never come back.  Now that Sam has angered and disappointed both his wife and daughter, he is determined to make good on his promise as an inventor to make the family fortune and thereby restore relations between his daughter and the Murchisons.

We are given a convincing demonstration of his invention in his work shop.  He fires a pistol at the tire and catches the rebounding bullet in a baseball glove.  Now he puts four of these tires on his car and drives into the city to demonstrate it to the Board of the National Tire Company.  Sam parks his car in front of the office building, in a no parking zone, and heads up to the Board room.  The building attendants push his car down the block and apparently called the police to come and take it away.  The police arrive and park in front of the building and exit the scene to meet up with the attendants down the block.

Meanwhile Sam brings the Board down to the front of the office building and apparently not recognizing that the police car isn’t his own he proceeds to shoot out the tires of the police car.  The Board laugh mockingly at his failed demonstration and the police show up and give chase at the sight of their car being used for target practice.  Sam successfully flees as the scene ends.

Next, we see Sam on the train headed back to his home.  He has written a suicide not to Pauline explaining that he can’t endure the humiliation that his failure will spark.  Now we are subjected to another long annoying sequence of Sam attempting to kill himself by drinking a bottle of iodine.  He finally gives it up after seeing a passing graveyard next to the train.

Now we mee the Princess Lescaboura who is travelling on the train in a private room.  Sam wanders into her room accidentally when a servant leaves the door open and he assumes it’s the bathroom.  The princess had just applied iodine to a cut on her hand and seeing the bottle Sam assumes she is about to commit suicide so he recounts his own misfortunes and suicide attempt to dissuade her from the supposed suicide.

She is touched by his mistaken concern for her safety and is also sympathetic to the pathetic personal problems he is in.  He says goodbye to her not knowing that she is royalty, thinking she is a young woman named Marie and invites her to visit his family if she ever stops in his town.

Incidentally while he was talking to the princess a couple of old biddies from his town see him talking to a young woman and spread gossip at home that he is having an affair.  And the story mutates until by the time he reaches home everyone is convinced that he has been involved in a drunken debauch with a stripper.  When Sam reaches town, every woman he meets upbraids him as a masher and every man in town slaps him on the back and wants to hear his story.

When he realizes that his wife will want to kill him when he gets home, he tries to come up with a gift that will assuage her anger.  One of his friends suggests a pet parakeet.  Sam replies that it’ll have to be bigger than that.  In the next scene we see him walking down the main street holding a rope around the neck of an ostrich that doesn’t seem happy about the arrangement.

In the meantime, the princess has arranged for a visit to Sam’s town.  The mayor and all the leading citizens meet her at the train station and she tells them that she wants to go to the home of her friend Sam Bisbee, the man who saved her life “during the war.”  Mrs. Murchison bends over backward to please the princess and the crowd heads for Sam’s house.  Along the way they find Sam and the ostrich and after the princess assures a drunk Sam that he is a hero they head for his home.  Eventually the princess arranges for a party to be given at Sam’s home in her honor and catered by the Murchisons.  The princess provides enough nonsense about how important Sam is back in her country that Mrs. Murchison announces the engagement of her son to Pauline.  And she arranges that Sam will perform the honor of dedicating the new golf course in town by hitting the first drive.  This gives us that agonizing eight-minute dose of torture before the National Tire Company president shows up and offers to buy Sam’s invention for $20,000.  Cutting him off before he can accept, the princess gets into abiding war and the president is forced to offer a million dollars plus a royalty to Sam on each tire sold.  Now the movie ends with Bisbees and Murchisons driving off to a party with the princess and Sam preparing for a two-week drinking bout with his friends.

As you can see, the movie consists of ridiculous events and absurd situations.  But some of the dialog is inspired.  My favorite situation is when Princess Lescaboura meets Sam’s wife.  Bessie is confused and honored by the princess’s friendliness but when the princess exclaims, “You must be the happiest woman in the world.”  All Bessie can confusedly say is, “Is my husband dead?”  And that encapsulates the magic of this movie.  Sam is the quintessence of the American husband.  His refusal to conform to his wife’s opinions on acceptable behavior and the suffering they both experience because of the conflict provides a funhouse mirror version of the real-life war between the sexes.

One small personnel note.  Bob Murchison is played by Buster Crabbe.  Here he is a young and very green actor that would one day thrill us as children when he played Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers.

So, do I recommend this movie?  It’s hard to say.  If you cannot get through the bad physical comedy bits that are ridiculously long then no, you will not enjoy this movie.  But if you can, then you will be rewarded by some truly inspired comedic moments.  Maybe the solution is to fast forward through those bits.  But that is the coward’s way out.  It’s up to you.

The Great McGinty (1940) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Having just lived through a stolen presidential election I thought this was the perfect time to review Preston Sturges’ comical look at crooked politics.

The movie opens up in a bar in a Latin American country.  A young American is getting drunk and becoming more and more depressed.  He had to escape from the United States and leave his family behind because he was a bank teller who got caught stealing money.  The bartender played by Brian Donlevy follows him into the bathroom just in time to stop him from shooting himself.  The bartender tells him not to despair.  He tells the young man that his case is minor compared to his own.  Then he tells his story and the scene changes to the bartender’s story.  We find out his name Dan McGinty.

When we first see him, he is a hobo in tattered clothes wandering the streets of some big eastern city, probably New York.  It’s election day and a political hack (played by William Demerast) collars him and tells him that if he votes for the crooked mayor under an assumed name, he’ll get paid two bucks.  When McGinty asks the fixer, what happens if he can vote twice the guy tells him he’ll get four bucks.  So McGinty goes to every polling station and votes thirty-seven times.  But the fixer doesn’t have enough money to pay McGinty off so he brings him down to headquarters to ask the “Boss” for the cash.  The Boss, played hilariously with an absurd Russian accent by Akim Tamiroff, is so impressed by McGinty’s nerve that he takes him under his wing to make him a successful crook.  First, he makes McGinty a collector for the protection racket that the Boss runs.  When his verbal and pugilistic skills allow him to clean up even the most delinquent customers the Boss realizes that McGinty will rise very high in the Boss’s political machine.  He graduates to squeezing all the city contractors for the kickbacks that the Boss gets for letting them skip the bidding process.  The relationship between McGinty and the Boss is one of fratricidal familiarity.  They are both berserk fighters who enjoy nothing better than brawling with each other at the drop of a hat.  There are several brawls in the course of the movie.

Eventually the Boss decides that the old mayor is too weak and he decides that McGinty will be the new mayor.  But before he can run, he has to get married.  Apparently the newly enfranchised woman vote didn’t cotton to bachelor mayors.  He and his secretary Catherine form a marriage of convenience.  She is a divorcee with two kids and they both agree that a marriage in name only would suit them both.  But as you can guess eventually, they both fall in love and ruin the whole thing.  Catherine is at heart an idealist and she hopes that some day Dan can go straight and get out from under the Boss’s thumb.

Finally, the Boss decides to run McGinty for governor and he wins.  Now McGinty decides he wants Catherine and the kids to respect him so he has it out with the Boss.  And right in the governor’s office he and the Boss get into a colossal fist fight and then the Boss pulls a gun and tries to shoot McGinty for which he is hauled off to jail for attempted murder.

But the Boss gets his revenge and has McGinty arrested for being involved in a crooked contract back when he was mayor.  Now the Boss and McGinty are in adjoining cells and they strike a deal and the Boss arranges for both of them to break out of jail and escape the country.  McGinty just has enough time to call Catherine and tell her where there is a safety deposit box with enough money to take care of her and the kids for life.

In the next scene they’re back in the Latin American bar where McGinty is the bartender and the Boss is the owner.  Just as he finishes the story and calms the young man down, he decides to make the cash register ring.  This is supposed to tip off the Boss that McGinty is stealing from him and they get into one of their habitual fistfights.  Obviously, the fight is the highlight of the day for both of these exiles.

Preston Sturges wrote and directed this comedy and like many of his films it has an originality sadly lacking in most movies.  The characters of McGinty and the Boss are extremely vivid and despite their obvious criminality quite likeable.  The rest of the cast are more than adequate and the dialog is quite good.  Highly recommended.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 14 – Saboteur (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Saboteur is one of Hitchcock’s earlier Hollywood era productions.  It’s the story of Barry Kane, played by Robert Cummings, a wartime factory worker who is mistakenly accused of being a Nazi saboteur.  The story starts out at an airplane manufacturing plant where Barry and his friend Ken Mason are employed.  At lunch they bump into another employee named Frank Fry who acts very suspiciously.  Barry sees an envelope that Fry is sending to a man in another town and finds a large amount of money that Fry drops on the ground.  When he gives the money back to Fry, he becomes very angry.  Suddenly a large fire breaks out and Barry, Ken and Fry head toward it.  Fry gives Ken a fire extinguisher but when Ken directs it at the fire, he becomes engulfed by the inferno and dies.

During the investigation it turns out that there is no employee named Fry and Barry’s story about the whole event is doubted when it turns out the extinguisher was filled with gasoline.  He is blamed for the fire and is being hunted as a Nazi saboteur.  He runs away and hitches a ride with a truck driver heading for the town that Fry’s letter was addressed to.

When he reaches the address, the man living there, Charles Tobin, denies knowing anyone named Fry but Barry accidentally finds a telegram from Fry to Tobin.  Realizing that Tobin is one of the saboteurs and has called the police to arrest him, Barry flees but is quickly captured by the police.  Later he escapes from them by leaping off a bridge into a river.  Eventually he reaches the cabin of a blind man who suspects that he is a fugitive from the law because he can hear Barry’s handcuffs clinking against each other.  The blind man prefers to believe Barry is innocent and agrees to help him get out of his handcuffs.  But the man’s niece, Patricia “Pat” Martin, arrives and wants to turn him into the police because of the news reports branding him as a dangerous saboteur.

Now follows a confusing and slightly ridiculous chain of events that involves circus freaks and an eventual change of heart by Pat toward Barry.  Eventually Barry convinces part of the sabotage gang that he is working for Tobin and is driven to New York City where the next big action is planned.  Pat is captured and also ends up in New York.  The new target is a battleship that has been completed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  The saboteurs manage to sink it and capture both Barry and Pat.  But by a clever ruse she is able to signal the police and all the saboteurs except Fry are captured by the police.  Fry escapes to the Statue of Liberty and there is a climactic fight on the torch of the statue where Fry falls onto the torch arm and is hanging by his fingernails.  Barry manages to grab hold of Fry’s jacket sleeve and is waiting for the police to bring a rope to allow for a rescue.  But before they can arrive the sleeve rips free and Fry falls to his death.  Barry kisses Pat and the movie ends.

Well, you can’t say Hitchcock doesn’t throw everything including the kitchen sink into the plot.  Bearded women, Siamese twins, midgets, trusting blind men, a pretty girl who models for billboards, sunken battleships, the Statue of Liberty, the Hoover Dam, leaps off bridges, Rockefeller Center, Nazi spies, shoot outs in movie theaters, you name it.  And this movie is noticeably a Hollywood product.  There is all of the wartime patriotism there and the tropes that the studios had built up at this point.  The production values are high but the dialog and acting are a bit mediocre.

It’s a pretty good effort but hardly one of Hitchcock’s finest productions.  I’d called it recommended but not highly recommended.  Let’s say it is moderately entertaining but it wouldn’t be something I’d re-watch often.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 13 – North by Northwest (1959) – A Movie Review

North by Northwest is considered by many film critics to be the epitome of Hitchcock’s suspense movies.  It has several iconic scenes and involves several high-powered Hollywood stars being choreographed through a very intricate and confusing plot about spies and murder that has a love story embedded in the middle.  But I’ve always thought it was a bit much.  It’s almost a send-up of some of his earlier stuff.

The plot revolves around a New York advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, being mistaken by a gang of Soviet spies for an American agent named George Kaplan who we find out later doesn’t actually exist.  Thornhill is kidnapped and brought to an estate on Long Island where he is given a choice; provide the Russian spies with information or be liquidated.  Thornhill adamantly maintains that he isn’t Kaplan and so they proceed with the murder.  They force Thornhill to drink a quart of bourbon and then put him behind the wheel of a car heading for a cliff.  But Thornhill manages to drunk-drive the car along a steep curving country road without crashing and eventually he is arrested by the local police.  After this there is a great deal of confusion as Thornhill attempts to find the men who attempted to kill him.  He next finds himself at the UN Building looking for the ringleader but instead he is somehow framed for the murder of a diplomat.

While trying to escape arrest by the NYPD, Thornhill next jumps aboard the 20th Century Limited, a luxury train that travels to Chicago where “Kaplan” has an appointment. On the train he meets Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint, and they begin a romance while she manages to hide him from the police.  But we are shown that secretly she is working with the Russian spies.  Eve pretends to get in touch with Kaplan for Thornhill and tells him to meet Kaplan at a rural Illinois bus stop that is surrounded by cornfields.  No one shows up until finally a crop-dusting biplane chases Thornhill and starts firing machine gun slugs at him.  Eventually the plane somehow crashes into a fuel tanker truck and Thornhill escapes back to Chicago in a stolen vehicle.

Now he confronts Eve with her spy friends at a fine arts auction.  He discovers that his nemesis is named Phillip Vandamm, played with his usual suave style by James Mason.  And he discovers that Vandamm is Eve’s lover.  In order to escape from Vandamm’s henchmen Thornhill comically heckles the auctioneers and is finally ejected by the police.  Thornhill tells the police that he is the wanted killer and they drive off to the local precinct.  But during the drive a radio call comes in and Thornhill is driven instead to the airport where a government agent called the “The Professor,” played by Leo G. Carroll takes custody of Thornhill and flies him to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  The Professor explains that Eve is acting as a government agent to provide information on Vandamm’s espionage ring.  But Thornhill has endangered her cover by falling in love with her and making Vandamm suspicious of her loyalty.

Thornhill confronts Vandamm and Eve at the airport.  He tells Vandamm that he really is the American agent Kaplan and he will allow Vandamm to escape in exchange for taking Eve into custody to punish her for her duplicitous behavior toward him.  When Thornhill becomes physical with Eve, she pulls out a small hand gun from her purse and shoots him several times and then flees.

Later we see the Professor driving into the wooded countryside somewhere in South Dakota and we see that Thornhill is uninjured due to the blanks in Eve’s gun.  Eve drives to meet them at this rendezvous point and explains to Thornhill that she must now leave the country with Vandamm on his private plane to complete her mission.  When Thornhill attempts to prevent her due to his romantic feelings for her, the Professor’s law enforcement associate punches Thornhill in the face and knocks him out.  Late he escapes their custody and heads to Vandamm’s home near the summit of the Mount Rushmore monument to get Eve to abandon the plan.  Hiding outside of the home he overhears Vandamm and his henchman Leonard, played with great creepiness by Martin Landau, discussing Eve’s status.  Leonard fires Eve’s gun at Vandamm and thus proves it is loaded with blanks.  After an initial burst of anger at Leonard Vandamm agrees that he will have to dispose of Eve by throwing her from the plane into a lake.

Thornhill manages to rescue Eve right before she gets on the plane but they cannot escape the property except by climbing down the face of the monument with Vandamm and his henchmen in hot pursuit.  Eventually a sharpshooter’s bullet by the Professor’s rescue party saves Thornhill and Eve from being forced off the shear rock face by Leonard who instead falls to his death.  Now that Leonard is no longer crushing Thornhill’s handhold on the cliff he manages to finally pull Eve up from where she is dangling over the abyss.  Whereupon the scene changes to Thornhill pulling Eve up to the elevated bed in their railway suite on the 20th Century Limited getting ready to celebrate their honeymoon.

Okay, so this is Hitchcock at the point in his career where he has gone a little over the top.  Humor has become a major part of the feel of the movie.  I’ll give some examples.  When Cary Grant is driving down the steep curving road drunk, the scene is decidedly comical.  And later on, when he is trying to avoid his enemies in the auction hall his demeanor is what you would expect of Cary Grant in a comic role.  It’s supposed to be funny.  And near the end of the movie where he and Eve are running for their lives away from the spies, when she asks him why his two earlier wives divorced him he deadpans that they thought his life was too boring.  This is sort of a comic movie.  And that’s not all that different from other movies from this period like Rear Window where comedy is added in.  But the improbability of some of the scenes like the crop-duster chasing him through the cornfields and the escape down the faces of the Mt. Rushmore monument makes the movie a little bit like a fantasy.

But it is entertaining.  Personally, I don’t watch this movie very often.  I have to be in the right mood.  I’d prefer to see Cary Grant in Notorious.  It’s a very similar plot but it’s played straight and has a very different feel.  But preferences differ and some people probably feel oppositely.  It’s still definitely one of Hitchcock’s better films, just not one of my favorites.  Still, highly recommended.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Everyone knows the outline of the Robin Hood story.  Robin is a Saxon nobleman who fights to avenge the oppression that the Saxons suffer at the hands of their Norman overlords.  He steals from the rich and gives to the poor.  He is a superb archer.  The story goes that while King Richard is absent on the Crusade his brother John uses the circumstance to overtax and terrorize the Saxon population.  The local tyrant for this story is the Sheriff of Nottingham who hunts relentlessly for Robin.  The happy ending is Richard’s return to England.

In this Warner Brothers’ version Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone inherits the activities usually given to the Sheriff of Nottingham and is Robin Hood’s primary enemy.  Robin is iconically portrayed by Errol Flynn in his most famous and most successful part.  And his love interest, the Maid Marian Fitzwalter is played by Olivia de Havilland.  Rounding out the major parts are Claude Rains as Prince John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck and Alan Hale as Little John.  But many of the smaller parts are also ably performed by a crew of excellent character actors.

Robin Hood’s heroics and acrobatics are generously sprinkled throughout the film and swashbuckling is a word that might as well have been invented for this movie.  Robin and his merry men swing on vines through Sherwood Forest, scale castle walls, and sword fight their way up and down stone staircases with the greatest of ease.  Robin can shoot backward from a galloping horse and hit his foes with arrows as they gallop along in the dark.  And of course, the feat of splitting an arrow with an arrow in the bulls’ eye is called a “Robin Hood.”  And so, it becomes the climax of yet another chapter in the film.  Robin fearlessly confronts his enemies right in their strongholds and only once is captured.  But on the brink of being hanged he is rescued by his men and returns to Sherwood in triumph.  And finally, when King Richard returns to England in disguise, Robin saves both him and Marian from the murderous plots of Prince John.

And in the spirit of the happy ending Robin kills Sir Guy in a sword fight, restores Richard to the throne and is betrothed to Marian with the king’s blessings.  Because this is 1938 a certain part of the reason for this movie is the pro-British sentiment that was being sponsored by the US government to counter the rise of Nazi Germany.  But it really isn’t necessary to justify the regard that this movie received at its release.  It actually is a remarkably stirring film.  Errol Flynn embodies the swashbuckling hero and Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains positively exude villainy and malice.  As I mentioned earlier, all of the bit players are excellent and the script is crisp and the stunts wonderfully choreographed.  It is an altogether lively and spirited romp.

If you’ve never seen this movie, I suggest that you remedy that deficiency as soon as you get the chance.  Very highly recommended for old and young alike.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 12 – The Wrong Man (1956) – A Movie Review

This is sort of an oddball Hitchcock.  It’s based on a true story.  But being a Hitchcock film during his heyday, it is well worth discussing.

The “Wrong Man” is the true story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero a musician living in Queens, New York with his wife and two sons who in 1953 was accused of a series of armed robberies based on his close resemblance to the actual robber.  The movie walks you through Manny Balestrero’s life on the day of his arrest.  He’s coming home early in the morning from his job as a musician at the upscale night club, the Stork Club and after breakfast he discusses with his wife how to finance the dental work that she needs.  Because they live pay check to pay check he intends to get a loan on his wife’s life insurance policy.  But when he goes to the insurance office two of the women there think they recognize him as the man who robbed the office in the not-too-distant past.  After Manny leaves, their manager calls the police and gives them Manny’s name and address to have him arrested for the hold up.

The police call up Manny’s home and surreptitiously determine what time he is expected home.  Two plains cloth policemen, Lee and Matthews, are waiting outside his house in their car and intercept him before he gets inside.  They inform him there’s been a complaint against him and tell him to come with them to straighten it out.  The police have Manny walk through several local stores that were robbed by the same man and allow the store personnel to have a chance to identify him.  They then go back to the precinct where Manny is told to print up a note dictated to him to match the writing on a note that the actual robber handed the clerk at the insurance company.  When Officer Lee says that there is some resemblance to the printing in the note, he asks Manny to print it again.  This time Lee notes that a misspelling by Manny matches a misspelling in the original note.  This convinces the police officers that Manny is the actual armed robber.

Next, they have Manny in a lineup and the two insurance office clerks identify him as the robber.  Following this identification, he is formally charged with the crimes and remanded to the Queensborough lock up.  We see Manny being led to his cell and his tie taken away to prevent possible suicide.  And we are shown Manny desperate and confused as he awaits the next steps in his nightmare.

Meanwhile his family is frantically searching for Manny and assuming that he has met with an accident or some other misfortune.  Finally, much later the police leave a message at his home about his arrest and the arraignment in the morning.

At the arraignment Manny is told that his bail will be $6,500.  Lacking this large amount of money, he is remanded into custody and processed into the long-term jail.  He goes through all the usual indignities and is housed in a cell.  But very soon after his family manages to borrow the money and he is released on bail.

What follows is the process of Manny attempting to prove his innocence.  He hires a good lawyer and attempts to find witnesses to prove where he was on the day of the insurance company hold up.  Of the three possible witnesses two have died in the interim and one cannot be located.  At this point, Manny’s wife Rose suffers a nervous breakdown and goes into a clinical depression for which she is hospitalized.  The trial begins and the prosecutor paints Manny’s poverty in terms that make it reasonable that he would have been desperate enough to commit the robberies.  The witnesses are paraded into the court and dramatically identify Manny as the armed robber.  But during the summation, a juror irritably stands up and complains about the drawn-out nature of the testimony and causes a mistrial to be declared.

Manny has now reached the end of his rope.  His mother is staying over to watch the kids in his wife’s absence and in resignation he tells her that he wishes they would just convict him and end the agony.  She begs him to pray to God for strength and afterward we see him praying.  And then we see overlayed onto the scene of Manny praying, another face.  Another man, and the man’s face has a general similarity to Manny’s face.  Then we see the man enter a small grocery store and attempt to rob it.  He claims to have a gun in his pocket.  But the Mom-and-Pop owners of the store knock him down and subdue him.

The man is arrested and is in the precinct being processed for the robbery attempt.  Walking through the precinct and noticing the robber is Officer Matthews.  He walks out of the precinct but after a few moments he stops, looks puzzled and goes back into the precinct.

Now we see Manny at work at the Stork Club and his boss tells him they want him at the precinct.  Manny reaches the precinct and his lawyer is there and tells him the good news.  Now we hear the same two insurance clerks picking out the real robber in a line up.  When they walk out, they see Manny and embarrassedly hurry past him.  Officer Matthews smiles at Manny and pats his shoulder.  Then the robber walks by Manny and they both look at each other in surprise at their resemblance.  Manny accuses him saying, “Do you know what you’ve done to my wife?”  But the robber is just shuffled off to his fate.

In the final scene Manny visits his wife at the mental hospital where she is still deeply sunk into depression.  A post script says that two years later Rose is fully cured and the family has moved to Florida.

Hitchcock made a very good selection.  This story contains many of the components that a fictional account would include to provide human interest.  The innocent man caught in a circumstantial nightmare where his blameless life cannot protect him from a cruel twist of fate.  His accidental resemblance to a criminal and being in the wrong place at the wrong time almost destroy his life and that of his family.  Only another twist of fate saves him.

Hitchcock parades us through the police procedural but from the point of view of the innocent man trapped in the gears of a soulless large city’s law enforcement machine.  The dehumanization and callousness of the experience is mirrored in Henry Fonda’s haunted expression.  The harrowing details of his and Rose’s struggle is extremely effective in drawing out the audience’s sympathy.  Vera Miles as Rose and Anthony Quayle as their attorney Frank O’Connor are both very good.  But even Fonda isn’t the lead character.  The star of the show is terror, the terror of the wrongly accused.  The story reminds me of a Greek tragedy.  But in this case the sin is not hubris.  It’s living in New York City where no one knows their neighbors and no one is your neighbor.

The Holly and the Ivy (1952) – A Movie Review

Here’s one last Christmas movie review for the season.  It’s a small British film from 1952 with Ralph Richardson cast as Reverend Martin Gregory, a parson in a small Norfolk village.  He is recently widowered and lives with his older daughter Jenny.  His younger daughter Margaret lives in London working as a fashion journalist and his son Michael is in the British Army.  Jenny is in love with an engineer named David Paterson but David has a job offer that would send him to South America for five years.  But Jenny says she cannot leave her aging father alone and refuses to even tell him about her love because then he would sacrifice his needs for the sake of her happiness.

The siblings will be returning home for Christmas along with two elderly aunts and a friend of the family.  The drama turns on the tensions arising out of the grown children’s fears about what they believe are their father’s intolerant religious principles.  The younger daughter lives in London to hide the existence of her illegitimate child from her whole family so that they wouldn’t be burdened with hiding this secret from their father.

During the course of the Christmas visit all these secrets come out and Martin realizes that his manner has made him unapproachable to his children thereby isolating and harming them.  He has frank discussions with his visiting son and daughter and does his best to convince them that he is not an inhuman religious fanatic but a man who loves his children and is not unrealistic about his expectations for human beings and their problems.  And once the secrets are exposed a resolution of the practical problem of Martin’s household needs is very satisfactorily found.

Ralph Richardson’s Martin is quite moving in his portrayal of a man struggling to connect with his children through the distance that his station in life has created.  He shows compassion and humility when his children relate the tragedies that have plagued them and he defends the life affirming nature of his faith and rejects the idea that he has not faced similar problems in his life.  He shows himself a warm human being and dispels the illusion that he has allowed his children to build of him as some kind of caricature of an Old Testament prophet summoning down lightning on the heads of his erring descendants.

All the actors perform admirably including the more ancillary characters like David, the aunts and the family friend.  The script is warm and intelligent and the plot plays out in a streamlined eighty minutes.  In fact, I could have wished it had been a little longer.  As opposed to the bleak cinema that Britain produced in the 1960s this movie, based on a play by Wynyard Browne, is life-affirming and ultimately optimistic.  Highly recommended for Christmas time but really enjoyable at any time of the year.

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 2

A couple of years ago, in the first installment of this essay, I wrote about the plot devices that were added in the 1951 and 1984 movie versions that weren’t written in Dickens’ novella.  And those two versions are my favorites.  The actors playing Scrooge in each case do a memorable job with the part.  And the productions are very good.

There are several other versions that I have watched several times.  There is a musical version with Albert Finney as Scrooge which has its points.  And the 1938 movie with Reginald Owens as Scrooge is acceptable.  But I’ve never cared for his acting style in the part.

But recently a friend told me he regards the 1938 version as his favorite.  Well, tastes differ so I just chalked it up to that.  But when this came up again during a conversation I asked if he thought Owens was the better Scrooge.  He said no.  What he liked about the 1938 version was the greater screen time given to the Cratchit family.  He thought that Gene Lockhart as Bob Cratchit and the rest of the family made the movie.

Since I had never analyzed the movie in that sense, I decided to give it another viewing.  In the 1938 version Gene Lockhart’s wife Kathleen plays Mrs. Cratchit and his daughter June Lockhart played Belinda Cratchit, one of the daughters.  Watching the various scenes they are in, it’s apparent that the Cratchit component of the story has been amplified.  The Christmas dinner scene is quite long and includes much more detail than any of the other versions.  And several other additional scenes involve Bob, Tim or Peter Cratchit interacting with either Scrooge or his nephew Fred.

And I noticed that Scrooge’s part had also been modified in this version.  Instead of the Ghost of Christmas Past bringing Scrooge to see his corruption by money he stops the ghost after the earlier Fezziwig scene.  Considered in the sense of time on the screen, the Cratchits are actually a larger part of the movie than Scrooge.  I think that is why someone might prefer this version.  It minimizes the amount of time spent with Scrooge.  So, if you aren’t primarily interested in Scrooge’s transformation then this would be the version that you would be drawn to.

Looked at in that light I understand the opinion.  But even though I will admit that the Cratchit family scenes in this version are attractive and enjoyable I have to go back to the story of Scrooge.  That is the center of the story and the reason for the action.

But it does bring up another trivia question.  Which is the best Cratchit family?  The most pitiable Tiny Tim is the one in the 1984 version.  He looks like he may keel over at any moment.  But for the rest of the Cratchit family including Bob I’d pick the ones in the 1951 version.  They seem the most authentic.

One thing that I notice is that no matter how many times I watch the various versions of A Christmas Carol I’m still affected by the emotions.  The Cratchits’ sorrow over Tim and Scrooge’s contrition and almost manic joy at being given a second chance always warm my heart.  Obviously, I’m over-sentimental and probably associate the feelings I felt when seeing these movies in my youth.  But whatever the reason they still work after all these years.  This is a tribute to Dickens’ genius but also to the culture that honored the humanity embedded in the Christmas spirit.  Peace on Earth, good will to men.  Or as Tiny Tim says, “God bless us all, everyone.