Shakespeare in Film – Part 9 – Henry V – Branagh’s 1989 Version

Sunday, I wrote the review of Olivier’s Henry V.  I watched Branagh’s version that night.  I watched a while ago but I wanted to have it fresh in my mind especially because I would be contrasting it to Olivier’s film.

When Branagh’s movie came out in 1989 it made him a star.  He was a young dynamic character and the world wanted to believe in heroes again.  He was married at the time to Emma Thompson and she played Katherine to his Henry.  They were seen as an exciting couple in Hollywood circles and there was great interest in their films together.  Putting all that aside, people were ready to take a fresh look at Shakespeare.  Branagh adapted the play for the screen and directed himself in the lead.  Branagh was young enough and active enough to make King Harry believable.  The movie was a critical success.

Interestingly, Branagh’s Henry V left in some of the smaller incidents that Olivier omitted.  The three conspirators who planned to assassinate Henry on behalf of the French are duly exposed and condemned.  The hanging of Bardolph, one of Prince Harry’s former companions is a stark reminder that King Henry is a changed man.

But the major thrust of the film of course runs in the same vein as Olivier’s.  And yet there are clear differences in tone and emphasis.  Despite the theme of war Olivier’s play is the more light hearted and optimistic of the two by far.  A good point of comparison is the St Crispin’s Day speech.  When Olivier gives the speech, he exudes confidence and a controlled enthusiasm.  But when Branagh speaks he impresses on the audience the sense of passion and energy he feels.  It’s a rush of adrenaline that he captures in words.

And the action of the play mirrors this same difference.  Olivier’s cinema is typical of what the 1940s would do to portray the late middle ages.  It reminds you of how Hollywood would give us Robin Hood or Ivanhoe.  It was a sunlit world of grassy fields and picturesque castles with banners flapping in the breeze high above the fields.  Branagh gives us explosions, fire, battles in the dead of night and lots and lots of mud.  Mud on the ground, mud on the soldiers and mud on the King.  And he keeps some of the lines on the war that Olivier left out.  When the English besiege the city of Harfleur, Henry harangues the town elders with the horrors that resisting the besiegers would entail if they failed to surrender in advance.  He mentions rape, plunder and the vicious destruction of human life from the youngest infant to the oldest inhabitants.  So, we can see that Branagh has made the more accurate version of the play.  He’s left all the warts in plain sight.

Now in addition to the grittier nature of Branagh’s production it should be said that his handling of the romance between Henry and Katherine is also more naturalistic.  Branagh has an earthier, more openly comical approach to Henry attempting to woo Katherine in terribly halting French.  Olivier’s approach is calmer and more restrained.  So, all in all let’s call Olivier’s a more formal and austere approach to the story and Branagh’s a more naturalistic and emotional version.

How do they compare?  In my opinion they are both excellent films.  And they have different strengths.  I watch the Olivier version when I want to enjoy Olivier’s language.  He is the gold standard, in my book, for what Shakespeare’s dialog should sound like.  No one else makes the text sound real the way he does.

But if I want to see the story of the war, I will watch Branagh’s version.  Branagh and his excellent cast bring the war to life.  By the end of the battle of Agincourt you can feel the exhaustion that the English feel as they struggle to bury their dead.  Even the miraculous victory they’ve won is almost beyond their strength to grasp.  Branagh has done a very fine job of making a Henry V that is faithful to the text and conveys the reality of a King going to war in the Hundred Years War.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 8 – Henry V – Olivier’s 1944 Version

Another Olivier film in which he starred and directed.  He also was one of the producers and had a part in the screenplay.  Shakespeare’s plot revolves around young King Henry (or Harry to his friends) defending his claim to the throne of France.  His Norman ancestors shared lineage with the French kings and here Henry is demanding from the French king that he be named his successor.  But the Dauphin (the king’s son and heir) answers for his father by sending an insulting “gift” to substitute for Henry’s claim.  He sends him a box of tennis balls.  That starts the war.

The action is divided between Henry’s prosecution of the war, scenes among the French leaders and several personal vignettes.  One set of vignettes involve Henry’s former companions; Ancient Pistol, Bardolph, Nim, Mistress Quickly and Sir John Falstaff.  In his youth Henry was an irresponsible wastrel that associated with these disreputable characters.  But these knaves were very popular from two earlier plays, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and here they are brought back for a final curtain call.  Their actions are for comic relief and as a contrast to the heroics of Henry and his warriors.  Then there are scenes with the three captains Fluellen, MacMorris, and Jamy from respectively Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.  These three men speak in heavily accented dialects reflecting their ethnicities.  They are also provided for comic relief with mockery of MacMorris being the primary focus.  And finally, there is the scene of Princess Katherine and her Duenna talking about King Harry in a scene where the Princess attempts to learn a few words of English seemingly in anticipation of meeting Henry.

The story’s climax is the momentous battle of Agincourt where according to Shakespeare’s reckoning an army of 12,000 Englishmen, mostly infantry and archers, defeated an army of 60,000 Frenchmen that included a large contingent of heavy cavalry.  After the English victory we have a scene where the French King agrees to make Henry his heir in exchange for Henry’s marriage to Princess Katherine.  And this is completed with Henry winning Katherine’s heart in a scene that is meant to signify his passionate and determined nature.

So how does Olivier handle this complicated and fragmented plot?  After all, some scenes take place in a palace, some in an inn but others are in the middle of a pitched battle and others in a bivouac.  In Shakespeare’s day, in his little circular theater, interior scene changes were hard enough but battle scenes could only be handled by suspension of disbelief and by heralds arriving to announce distant action.  Olivier pays homage to this by starting the play in the Globe Theater.  We see the actors behind the scene dressing and preparing to enter the stage.  Even Olivier as Henry is shown first as an actor about to enter his first scene.  The following scene at the inn between Ancient Pistol and company are also handled as scenes in the theater.

But once the action moves afield, we get exterior shots of the English and French countryside (actually Irish, this was shot right before D-Day and England was on a war footing while neutral Ireland was not).  And it’s outdoors that Olivier gets to give the rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech.  And the big battle includes an actual cavalry charge.  After the battle they use a strange combination of exterior shots with painted backgrounds that are sort of picturesque in conjuring up a theater.  And a theater is where the finale happens, right back in the Globe Theater where the Narrator closes the curtain on Henry and Katherine and reads the epilogue.

So, how did I like this mess?  Well, actually, quite a lot.  I can’t help but admire the way Olivier takes the conventions of a Shakespeare play like the exits and entrances of the cast and makes them part of an internal joke by showing the cast as actors going onto a stage.  He even takes the speech that explains his claim to the throne and makes it a comic scene with bishops and clergymen dropping and finally throwing ancient manuscripts at each other in their confusion at trying to prove Henry is the legitimate King of France.  To a modern audience the base and crude friends of ancient Pistol seem strange and exotic but Olivier has his Globe audience filled with Pistol’s spiritual kinsmen who cheer and catcall in approval of their low antics.

By modern standards the battle scenes are somewhat theatrical.  After you’ve seen elves and men mowing down orcs in one of the Lord of the Rings movies the knights on horseback can’t be very convincing.  And Olivier is no Errol Flynn swashbuckling with a sword.  But what Olivier has is the ability to take Shakespeare’s lines and turn them into dramatic speech.  I think the fact that Olivier had done Shakespeare on the stage with the best English actors of his generation was what gave him the ability to give the words the inflection and cadence that turns them from a museum piece into a dramatic scene.  I’ve seen the St. Crispin’s Day speech done by Branagh and Olivier.  Branagh gives it all the intensity and emotion he can.  Olivier is calmer and quieter but he infuses his speech with the storyteller’s charm of what it will be like to look back at a victory from the vantage point of many years.  Maybe my admiration of his skills is idiosyncratic to me.  But even though he is an actor from an earlier time I do not think our modern method actors can compare.  They always reach for emotional affect and seem to overdo it.

Henry V is a special play in Shakespeare’s list.  Everything but the epilogue is a reflection of the will and fortune of a fortunate king.  All his ventures succeed and his reign is fortunate.  Only the epilogue reminds us that the War of the Roses is yet to revive in his son’s time and erase all his glories and end the English sovereignty on the mainland.  But the play gives the audience a chance to hear of victory as a contrast to the tragedies that will follow.  Olivier made his production as a morale boost for the English who were about to join the Americans in the D-Day invasion of France.  The story of an earlier invasion of France by Henry was supposed to provide hope for the nation worn out by years of bombing raids and setbacks in the war.  And so, Olivier omitted the defeats from the epilogue.  Wise decision.

This version is dated in terms of cinematography and stylized in some aspects of the acting but I recommend it to those who enjoy Shakespeare’s plays.

 

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Shakespeare in Film – Part 5 – Hamlet – Olivier’s 1948 Version

Olivier won the Academy Award for Best Picture and directed himself to the Best Actor award too.  That is still a unique circumstance.  Despite this acclaim purists condemned the excisions that Olivier made to the plot eliminating the sub-plots involving Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Fortinbras.  This shaved an hour and half from its length and concentrates the play into a personality study.

Despite Olivier’s modifications it remains a very formal telling of the tale from the aspect of the acting.  Olivier spent a number of years in London’s Old Vic Theatre Company performing Shakespeare’s plays with the greatest living British actors of his generation.  Comparing his portrayal with an American version such as Mel Gibson’s excellent 1990 version defines the two schools of acting.  The American method acting version requires the actor to submerge himself into the personality he “discovers” for the character.  He feels the part.  The British actor learns the techniques needed to portray the character and emotions he desires to project to the audience.  Olivier himself once described a circumstance that highlighted this difference.  During the making of the film Marathon Man his co-star Dustin Hoffman tortured himself with various discomforts to help him feel the part of a man exhausted and at the end of his strength.  When Hoffman noticed that Olivier was sitting comfortably in anticipation of his scenes Hoffman asked him how he could get into his part without some physical method.  Olivier was said to have answered, “Dear boy, it’s called acting.”

So, all that said.  I consider this the best version I’ve seen.  The dialog, the acting, the staging, all excel the other two versions I’ve seen.  The story flows and the characters live in front of us in a way that often escapes other performances of Shakespeare’s plays.  Every little phrase and movement works the way it should.  Olivier is a craftsman walking us through his weird world of pain and revenge.  The lines are alive and sound like dialog and not museum exhibits.  They fit perfectly with the action that attends them.  They are poetry and human speech both.

And I actually have no complaints with any of the actors.  All were skilled and none fell short that I can remember.  That is not a small thing.

And despite the formal theater there are naturalistic touches that work well.  My favorite is the gravedigger.  When Hamlet comes upon him he fits completely with what you would expect of a son of the soil.  He is contrary and defers not at all to the high-born questioning of his Lord and better.  He is witty and authoritative in his knowledge of graveyard ecology.  Another technical advantage of this version is the dagger and rapier duel in the final scene.  Olivier and Terence Morgan who plays Laertes do an impressive job of simulating a sword fight.  No special effects either.

My advice to anyone coming to Hamlet for the first time, watch this version first.  Measure the other ones by it.  It will actually make the others easier to understand and thereby improve them.  Olivier is truly a master at his work.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 2 – Julius Caesar (1953)

This version of Julius Caesar is interesting to me because it contains two contrasting acting types.  With John Gielgud as Cassius you have a British Shakespearian actor steeped in the conventions and knowledge of the traditional theater.  With Marlon Brando as Mark Antony you have a great American method actor who approaches his performance as a process of absorbing the soul of the character and living the part.  And because Mark Antony’s part is so bound up with a revenge motive, he is able to bring the set speech, his “friends, romans, countrymen” speech, to life.  Gielgud’s Cassius is a more intellectual character and it requires a great deal of nuance to render the part interesting.  His character is of an angry disappointed man who is motivated by fear, jealousy and spite.  The fine British actor James Mason is Brutus and does a masterful job of portraying the honest, intelligent patriot who slays his friend for the good of his country.  Louis Calhern another American actor has the pivotal but relatively minor part of Julius Caesar.  Greer Garson as Calpurnia and Deborah Kerr as Portia are Caesar’s and Brutus’s wives respectively.  And there are several other good performances but essentially the main action consists of Cassius and Brutus on one side and Mark Antony on the other.  Cassius draws Brutus into a conspiracy against Caesar and Mark Antony stirs a popular rebellion against the assassins.

The play is cut in half by the murder, with the first half concluded by Brando’s funeral oration for Caesar.  It is one of Shakespeare’s most memorable speeches and Brando plays it to the hilt.  His voice is saturated with emotion, by turns, sorrow, scorn then anger.  He plays the Roman crowd and stirs them to mutiny against the “honorable men” who slew Caesar.

For Brutus and Cassius, the speeches are smaller but they still allow the characters to display their personalities.  Cassius shows us his pettiness and his genuine feelings of affection for his friend.  Brutus is a more austere character.  Intelligence, integrity and a slightly cold persona is displayed.  But at the end when his whole world starts to collapse, he allows his personal feelings to emerge somewhat and these do him credit.

This play is a study of personalities.  The battle scenes are short and stylized so there isn’t a dynamism as you would see in a modern rendition of this story.  Instead you have what Shakespeare would show on a stage.  I don’t think Julius Caesar will appeal to everyone.  It’s not exciting enough for many people.  They will find it boring.  But for those interested in seeing how a dying world drove friends against each other in a civil war this gives a flavor of it.

Personally, I like the play and this version of it.  I’m not the biggest Brando fan but I like what he did with Mark Antony, especially the big speech.  And I’m always glad to see James Mason in a production.  His presence and the remarkable sound of his voice were perfect for this part.  So, there’s my first Shakespeare review.  That wasn’t so bad after all.

31OCT2019 – Happy Halloween!

Even a Man who’s pure at heart
And says his prayers by Night
May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
And the Moon is full and bright

Wolfsbane Blooming in October 7

There haven’t been any really good horror movies lately so I think this year I’ll just put up my links to the Universal Classic Monster Movies.

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/12/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-1/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/12/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-2-dracula/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/14/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-3-frankenstein/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/17/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-4-wolfman/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/19/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-5-the-mummy/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/21/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-6-the-invisible-man/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/23/universal-classic-monster-movies-an-ocf-classic-movie-review-part-7-the-lesser-works-and-a-final-verdict/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/02/22/dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-1931-version-a-classic-monster-movie-review/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/28/psycho-an-ocf-classic-movie-review/

 

Happy Halloween.

 

Destination Moon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The 1950 motion picture Destination Moon is in several aspects an odd duck.  It was an independent production under George Pal’s control.  He worked with Robert A Heinlein to adapt his novel Rocket Ship Galileo into a screen play.  In point of fact the plot changes involved make the movie and the book completely different stories.  For Pal who would go on to make such sci-fi classics as War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and When Worlds Collide this was a chance to make a realistic space flight movie with Heinlein providing the scientific accuracy.

After a government project to build an advanced rocket motor is sabotaged and abandoned a plan is hatched to overcome the loss of government funding in rocket design by recruiting patriotic business leaders to pool their resources to pay for and build a Moon rocket.  General Thayer and Dr. Charles Cargraves were the moving force behind the earlier government project and Jim Barnes is the principal industrialist who uses his aircraft design facilities to build the atomic powered rocket.  Along with Joe Sweeney who provides radio and communication expertise (along with Brooklyn-accented comic relief) these men will be the crew to travel back and forth to the Moon.

When local bureaucracy threatens to tie up the launch in the courts, the team decides to launch immediately.  Just as the sheriffs are arriving to serve the launch injunction the crew is riding the elevator up to the cockpit.  The ship takes off and the crew gets to experience the pain of eight gee take off acceleration and the nausea associated with zero gravity conditions.  Shortly after taking off they discover the need to do a space walk to repair equipment.  One of the astronauts carelessly allows his magnetic boots to become separated from the ship’s hull while not holding onto his tether and begins floating away from the ship.  One of his mates has to use an oxygen cylinder as a makeshift rocket to rendezvous with the lost man and bring him back.

As the rocket approaches the Moon, errors in the navigation (or should I say astrogation) force the crew to expend to much reaction mass from the rocket to land in their planned destination.  Mission control on Earth begins calculating how much weight must be removed from the ship to balance the reduced capacity of the ship’s fuel load.

Meanwhile the crew investigates the Moon.  The first thing they do is claim the Moon for the United States (for the good of all mankind).  Using a Geiger counter General Thayer discovers large deposits of uranium.  Later on, one of the astronauts takes a picture of Joe Sweeney holding his arm up in such away that it looks like he is holding up Earth in the sky behind him.

The calculations on the fuel are distressing.  The ship has to be lightened by over a ton.  The crew starts removing everything that isn’t required to get the ship back to Earth.  But even after sawing off any metal components of the ship that can be removed, they’re still short by one hundred ten pounds.

Barnes, Cargraves and Thayer realize that someone has to stay behind and each one of them tries to convince the other two that he is the one to stay based on authority, age or responsibility.  Meanwhile Sweeney takes it upon himself to take the last space suit and leave the ship.  He tells them to leave without him.  But Barnes figures out a trick to get them below the weight limit.  With a rat-tailed file Sweeney puts a notch in the outer door frame of the air lock.  A heavy oxygen cylinder is hung outside the ship from a line that runs through the notch in the door.  With the door closed the airlock is pressurized with only a slow leak from the notch.  Then Sweeney ties the space suit to the other end of the line.  Once Sweeney reenters the ship the outer door is opened and the weight of the cylinder drags the space suit out the door.  Then the ship launches back to Earth.

And the movie ends with the words THE END followed by “of the Beginning.”

Destination Moon is a landmark.  It is the first reasonably accurate portrayal of actual space flight.  Coming nineteen years before Apollo 11 it is remarkably realistic.  Now as cinema it definitely isn’t King Lear or even King Kong but it’s excellent propaganda for a space program.  And it does contain all the correct tropes of the time.  If you are a sci-fi fan this movie is a must see.

The Best Years of Our Lives – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Nineteen Forty Six was a pivotal year in the American Century.  The United States had won World War II by harnessing the minds and bodies of its people and focusing that output single-mindedly on victory on the battlefield.  It had required all its young men to drop their lives and join the most powerful fighting machine ever assembled.  But equally extreme was the disruption that this mobilization had on the rest of the population.  The industrial capacity of the country was shifted over from producing cars and clothes for the populace to producing battleships, tanks, munitions and supplies needed to maintain millions of men across a far-flung battle field that spanned the globe.

And those industries had to produce this war-time materiel with almost none of their regular workers.  They had to train women and older men to take the places of their husbands, sons and fathers.  Other disruptions existed because of the male deployment.  Marriage and family growth were often postponed until after the war.  But equally disruptive were the last minute marriages and even conceptions that were consummated in defiance of the war’s demands.  Many a young woman had to raise a posthumous child to a father who would never return to his family.

But finally the war was over.  By dint of the effort of millions and with the help of a couple of atomic bombs the war was won and done.  Now these millions of soldiers. sailors, airmen and marines were returning home to their families and friends.  But in many ways, the returning men were strangers in a strange land.  They were changed and so was the country.  Whereas, for the last four years, they had been the focus of all that went on, now they were being deposited back in the country to try and restart their lives where they left off.  But things were not where they left off.  The jobs they had had before their enlistments were either being done by someone else or didn’t even exist anymore.  And the meager but regular paychecks they got from Uncle Sam would soon disappear.

And finally, many of these men were physically or mentally wounded.  In addition to the injured and maimed a great number of them were victims of what today we call PTSD.  The experiences they had lived through had left a mark on their minds that only time might heal.  The ones that had lost limbs had the added physical and psychological difficulties associated with these losses.

The Best Years of Our Lives was a movie that ambitiously attempted to portray and speak to these realities.  And this was an innovation for the times.  Up until this point Hollywood portrayed America’s wartime experience through a patriotic lens that glossed over many of the harsh realities that existed.  But this movie cast a veteran who had lost his hands in the war (Harold Russell) as Sailor Homer Parrish one of the returning servicemen.  The realities of divorces and unemployment and the depression associated with the alienation and various disruptions impacting the former GIs are openly addressed and nothing is glossed over for the sake of sparing the audience.

Frederic March and Dana Andrews along with the above-mentioned Harold Russel are the protagonists.  They meet on the airplane ride back to their home town of Boone City and the three men bond over the relief and anxiety associated with leaving the service and returning to civilian life.  March is a forty-something infantry sergeant named Al Stephenson and Andrews is Army Air Corps Captain Fred Derry.  But whereas Captain Derry was a highly paid officer and a gentleman in the service he returns home with his only civilian work experience being a soda jerk at the local drug store.  Alternatively, Stephenson trades in his infantry grunt existence for the comfortable lifestyle of a bank officer.  Homer Parrish returns home to the pity and awkward glances from friends and family associated with his missing hands.

Al Stephenson reintroduces himself to his wife Milly and his son and daughter.  Milly (played by Myrna Loy) tries to make Al feel at home but they both are ill at ease trying to take up their relationship where it left off.  Finally, nervous about heading to bed early he drags Milly and daughter Peggy off to the local watering holes to drink away his nerves with scotch.

Meanwhile Fred Derry reaches his father’s home to discover that his young wife Marie has moved out into her own apartment downtown and is working as a cocktail waitress in a night club.  He heads out trying to find out what night club Marie is working at.

And finally, Homer is home with his and his girlfriend’s families celebrating his return and talking about his future.  But he becomes so unhappy with the tense and nervous atmosphere that he leaves to hang out at his Uncle Butch’s bar.

And so, all three ex-servicemen coincidentally meet up at Butch’s Place.  And there we see Al and Fred get royally drunk to distract themselves from their domestic issues.  And in this impaired condition Fred flirts mildly with Peggy Stephenson.  Finally, Butch tells Homer his family wants him home and Milly and Peggy manage to drag Al and Fred into the car and after Fred fails to gain entry into Marie’s apartment building, they drive both men back to the Stephenson apartment where the fall-down-drunk men are bedded down.  During the night Peggy hears Fred Derry crying out.  He was reliving a nightmare where some of his comrades were shot out of the air.  The next morning, he apologizes for waking her and she sympathetically assures him that she didn’t mind.  Peggy gives Fred a lift to his wife’s building and this time he gets in.  Now we meet Marie.  Fred married a very beautiful woman (played by Virginia Mayo) whom he had only known for days when he was deployed to Europe.  Now we see that Marie is a selfish, materialistic woman who expects to be supported in the style she has been accustomed to as a night club denizen.  While Fred has a thousand-dollar severance payment from the service they live it up.  But when the money runs out the couple begin to battle over Marie’s dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile Al and Milly reconnect and talk about their children and Al’s future with the bank he left when he enlisted.  Al tells Milly that he feels responsible to help all the other veterans who didn’t come home to a good job and need some help to get their lives back on track.  He uses his position as a loan officer to help fellow veterans who need GI loans to try to catch up with the new world they find themselves in.  This puts him at odds with the bank president but Al perseveres to champion his fellow vets.

At Homer Parrish’s house we meet Homer’s sweetheart Wilma and find that although she is demonstrably in love with Homer, he is withdrawn and morose.  She asks him why he hasn’t asked her to marry him.  But he tells her he doesn’t want to ruin her life by tying her down to a helpless cripple.  Homer is so unhappy that he explodes in frustration when he thinks his little sister and her friends are gawking in a window at his prosthetic hands.  Finally, Wilma tells Homer that her parents want her to leave town to forget him but she wants him to marry her.  Homer decides to let her see just how helpless he is when he removes his prostheses.  But instead of recoiling from his injuries she embraces him and proves to him that she wants to be with him.  They set the date for their wedding.

An additional story line involves a romantic attachment that grows between Fred Derry and Peggy Stephenson.  When Al finds out about his daughter’s romance with the married Fred, he angrily confronts him for involving his daughter in an extra-marital affair and Fred stoically agrees to break it off.  But even with Peggy out of the picture Fred and Marie fall apart and he leaves home while she declares her intention to get a divorce.  When he leaves, he intends to leave town and start his life over somewhere else.  But while waiting for a flight at the airport he roams through the warplane graveyard and climbs into a bomber.  While reliving some disturbing memory from the war he is discovered by a man who is reclaiming the old planes for construction scrap materials and is told to get out of the plane.  Fred asks if he has any jobs available and manages to convince the man that he is a good prospect and so Fred restarts his life again in his home town.

Now the three ex-servicemen meet up at Homer’s wedding where Al, Milly and Peggy are friends of the groom and Fred is the best man.  Now that Fred is no longer married, he and Al no longer have a reason for fighting and at the end of the night Fred and Peggy come back together and decide to marry.

 

Back in 1946 when winning an Academy Award actually meant the movie was good, The Best Years of Our Lives was competing against It’s a Wonderful Life.  And I think The Best Years of Our Lives won because America needed to move beyond the simplified vision of life represented by It’s a Wonderful Life and recognize the harsh realities and ugly side to life that came along with the changes that the war generated such as the liberation of women and the choice of some of them to embrace a life style that did not value a traditional family role.  But acknowledging the problems facing the returning vets made this movie resonate with the American people.

In my opinion it is one of the best films ever made.  The acting by March and Loy is exceptional and Andrews, Russell and several other players are also excellent.  It captures the feeling of the time and who the American people were back then.

After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

Cyrano de Bergerac – An OCF Classic Movie Review

With enormous trepidation do I write this review.  In this year 2018, surrounded by the mores and mentality currently on display in the former realm of Christendom, how can you explain, never mind, recommend the story of Cyrano de Bergerac?  To a generation that embraces Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and the Kardashians how do you justify Cyrano’s chaste love for Roxane.  To a world that needs safe spaces to cower in at the very hint of harsh language how do you explain two men fighting to the death with rapiers over an insult?  It’s ludicrous to even consider.  The very word honor has ceased to have an explicable meaning.

No, there is no way.  This story can only be presented to an older generation.  And even to them, watching it would be a jarring exercise in switching gears from the world of Caitlyn Jenner and Hillary Clinton to the chivalry of seventeenth century France.  So, I cannot expect any sympathy from a modern audience for such a story. Even when this movie was filmed in 1950 the plot was considered much too sentimental.  In fact, the only saving grace it had was the tour de force performance of its star Jose Ferrer.  Even critics who savaged the rest of the production including the rest of the cast, declared Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano as a masterpiece and his recital of Rostand’s words inspired.  And so, they were.  Ferrer’s mastery of the material only seems the more convincing compared to the journeyman competence of his fellow cast members.

For those who have read this far but do not know Rostand’s plot, Cyrano is a musketeer in the employ of the King of France in the seventeenth century.  He is also a poet and a deadly skilled swordsman.  He also possesses a very large nose about which he is devilishly sensitive.  One word or even a glance at his nose is enough to trigger a duel from which the offender will exit without his life.  And Cyrano is secretly in love with Roxane his distant cousin and one of the most beautiful women in Paris.  Because of his relationship with Roxane he is compelled by his sense of honor to help her in whatever she asks.  Unfortunately, what she asks him is to help his rival in love to succeed in his courting of Roxane.  When Cyrano meets this rival Christian, he discovers that he is unable to string romantic words together in a way that appeals to Roxane.  So, Cyrano must become Christian’s coach in writing and speaking poems of love.  And finally, when it becomes too difficult, he uses the darkness of night to impersonate Christian under Roxane’s balcony and succeeds in winning her love for Christian with Cyrano’s own passionate declaration of love.

There follow several obstacles, a nobleman as rival to Christian who is also his superior officer in the army and a war with Spain.  Marriage, sorrow, misunderstanding and death stand in the way of true love.  But revelation finally occurs, if too late to allow for happiness.  All of this is brocaded with a script that Ferrer delivers with wit and panache.  For a man of the late nineteenth or early to mid-twentieth century it is a treat and for those afterward a puzzle only.

Recommended only for the true sentimental idealist.

The Maltese Falcon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Back in late October of 2016 I reviewed Dashiell Hammett’s crime novel “The Maltese Falcon.”  To describe the review as highly enthusiastic would be an understatement.  I raved about the book.  Well, I’ll almost repeat the performance for John Huston’s film.  There are differences, of course.  And if you had read the book before seeing the movie you’d feel that both Bogart and Astor were physically miscast.  But the movie on its own merits is superb.

John Huston based the movie quite faithfully on Hammett’s book.  Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade, one half of the San Francisco based private detective firm of Spade and Archer. He’s also his partner Miles Archer’s wife Iva’s former lover (now that’s a complicated sentence!).

The story opens up with Spade’s secretary, Effie Perine, announcing a new client, Miss Wonderly (played by Mary Astor).  Wonderly starts telling a tale to Spade and also Archer as he walks in during the story.  The story is a fabrication about a make-believe teen-age sister who has been spirited away cross country by a real gangster named Floyd Thursby.  Spade and Archer agree to tail Thursby in return for some also very real hundred dollar bills that Wonderly pays them.

Archer is shot and killed during his surveillance and this begins a sequence of events that involves Spade in a confusing search for the truth about a globe-trotting quest to obtain the legendary Maltese Falcon.  We meet corpulent Caspar Gutman played by Sidney Greenstreet, who is the ringleader behind the search.  Then there is Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, a mincing effeminate who sometimes works for Gutman and sometimes doesn’t.  There is Wilmer Cook, Gutman’s young triggerman who would rather shoot his opponents than negotiate terms.  And finally, we have the good cop/ bad cop duo of Detective Tom Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy.  They show up at strategic moments to inform Spade that he is everyone’s favorite suspect in several murders.

The exact details of the plot are too much fun to spoil so I won’t go into much detail but suffice it to say there really aren’t any innocent parties involved unless you include Effie Perine.  Wonderly, which isn’t the last fake name she’ll go by in the film is up to her neck in the crimes but she becomes Spade’s femme fatale in the story.  Spade is a ruthless but strangely honorable character who lives by his own logic.  The criminals (almost everyone) spend the entire movie double-crossing each other in various iterations.  They all prove, with some prodding from Spade, that there is indeed no honor among thieves.  But the plot moves along smartly and by the end all the loose ends are neatly tied up and Sam Spade is sort of the last man standing.  Bogart even gets to apply an ironic tagline to describe the futility of the whole mad enterprise.

When I said that Bogart and Astor were physically miscast it’s because in the book Spade is described as a tall muscular blond-haired man.  Bogart is none of those things.  And in the book Mary Astor’s character is a woman in her twenties which at the point when this movie was made could hardly describe Astor.  Regardless, they make the characters their own.  And especially Bogart’s Spade is iconic and basically defines the Sam Spade character for most of the people who have heard of the Maltese Falcon.  The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Greenstreet and Lorre are so interesting and memorable that at certain points in the movie they push even Bogart out of the spotlight.

If you’ve never seen the Maltese Falcon then shame on you.  In fact, if I had my way people would read the book first and then watch the movie.  But this is a fallen world we live in.  So, I guess I’m already asking too much to recommend a black and white movie.  Highly recommended.