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.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Mrs. Miniver is an American film about the beginning of World War II in Britain.  Greer Garson is Mrs. Kay Miniver, wife of well to do, British architect Clem Miniver played by Walter Pidgeon.  They live in a rural area outside of London on the Thames River where they enjoy a happy home life with their three children and the requisite maid and cook and beautiful home.

Their son Vin is just returning from Oxford while the two younger children are a boy and girl who look to be about six and ten years old respectively.  Early in the story we meet Carol Beldon, granddaughter of Lady Beldon, the local aristocrat who presides over the social world of the proper residents of their town.  Of course, Vin and Carol fall in love.  This sets the stage for the dramatic tension that defines the story.

This is 1939 and war has just been declared.  The realities of this slowly encircle the beautiful carefree life of the Minivers and then pummel it like the nightly bombings pummel their town.  Vin and Carol marry before he enlists in the Royal Air Force.  In a frank discussion Kay and Carol talk about acknowledging that it is very likely Vin will be killed in the war.  Carol is especially adamant that this reality makes her determined to charge with meaning and emotion their brief life together before his departure for active combat.

One of the most affecting scenes in the movie has Kay and Clem huddled in their backyard bomb shelter with their two young children during a bombing raid.  The children are trying to sleep in a small bunk bed while the parents sit up and try to distract themselves with chit chat about a book they enjoyed as children, Alice in Wonderland.  But the bombing runs keep getting closer and closer and finally the concussions are almost on top of them and the children become hysterical and their parents cradle them in their arms and try to sooth them while hell is unleashed around them.  Finally, the shelter door blows open and we realize that the bombs have been landing all around their house.  Finally, the attack ebbs into the distance and they sit dazed but alive.

Vin is given leave and he comes to visit his family.  He and Carol are given a room to stay in in the damaged home of his parents and they go to a local flower show where Carol’s grandmother’s prize roses are competing against a rose named the Mrs. Miniver by a local friend, the train station master.  At the suggestion of her granddaughter’s husband Lady Beldon is grudgingly convinced to allow her rival to win the grand prize.  And this happy moment is quickly followed by news of a massive air raid coming and Vin’s recall to his flight wing.

Carol and Kay drive him to his base and on the return trip home the two women are caught in the wreckage of an aerial dogfight and some machine gun bullets penetrate the car.  Carol is badly wounded and Kay rushes her home and calls for medical help by phone.  But shortly afterward Carol dies and Kay cradles her lifeless body and cries inconsolably.

In the last scene of the movie the townspeople are gathered in the heavily damaged village church and the minister preaches a sermon recognizing the deaths and injuries of so many of the parish including Carol and the station master who won the rose contest.  But he paints the war as a sacred duty to preserve their freedom and provide hope for a return to the happy lives they had before.

In many ways Mrs. Miniver was a war propaganda movie to prepare the American public for the realities of the war that the United States had just joined and to reinforce the bonds of friendship between the United States and England.  The Nazis, in the person of a German paratrooper are painted in a very negative light.  And the bombing campaign was meant to show Americans that fighting the enemy in Europe instead of at home was a great blessing for us.

Greer Garson’s portrayal is very effective.  In fact, the whole family is extremely likable and they naturally draw the audience’s sympathy at each stage of the film.  We are shown them both in their carefree earlier lives and in the midst of great tragedy and they always attract our good feeling for them.

My favorite scene takes place after Clem has been summoned by the local civil defense authorities to take his small motor boat down the Thames River.  He learns that they are looking for volunteers to pilot their boats to Dunkirk to rescue the surrounded British Expeditionary Force in France.  While he is away Mrs. Miniver is captured by an injured German paratrooper and held at gunpoint in her own home while the German demands food and drink and a coat to help him avoid detection once he leaves.  Luckily, he passes out from his injuries and she is able to take his gun and hide it and call the police.  Shortly after, Clem returns from his mission, exhausted, filthy and exultant.  Kay welcomes him and lets him bath and go to bed to fall into an exhausted sleep.  When he wakes the next afternoon, he asks how things went while he was gone and she tells him all was well.  While talking to the cook about the breakfast that Clem wants, she reminds Kay that there isn’t any ham left because she gave it to the German paratrooper.  When Clem overhears this, he is outraged accusing her of lying when she said that things were quiet while he was away.  He says, “What if he had a gun?”  And she flippantly replies, “Oh I just took it away from him.”  Now seeing that she is playing with him, as she bends over to straighten out the bed sheets, he administers a loud slap to her butt.  Now those were the days.  I have often wanted to do that to Camera Girl when she sasses me but she isn’t as amiable as Mrs. Miniver.  Her revenge might be too painful to chance it.  And for that reason, I am especially fond of this scene.

As I said at the beginning this movie is in a sense war propaganda but it was also a way for the Americans to reflect on the shared sacrifices that would have to be made in a war that had been thrust upon them after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I found the script and the acting to be honest and compelling.  I recommend this movie when you are in the mood for a World War II picture.

The Third Man (1949) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

If someone asked you to name a movie starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, I suppose your answer would be Citizen Kane.  Well, here’s a different answer, “The Third Man.”  And here’s another difference, Welles isn’t the filmmaker here, he’s just a supporting player.  Of course, being Orson Welles in 1948 means that “just” has a little more to it than just “just.”

Joseph Cotton is Holly Martins an American writer of dime novel westerns.  He arrives in Vienna which at the time is an occupied city divided into sectors controlled by the post-WWII victorious allies (the United States, Britain, France and Russia).  This is narrated for us along with the realities of such a conquered place.  The locals survive by supplementing their impoverished legal trades with black market transactions on everything from cigarettes to tires to adulterated pharmaceuticals.  Holly has come to Vienna to work for his childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles).  It is never explained what exactly he was supposed to be employed as but that quickly becomes an academic question.

When Holly reaches the building where Harry lives, he’s told by the building porter that Harry was run over by a truck and killed a day or two before.  Holly goes to the burial and there we see the film’s other main characters although not all of them are introduced.  After the funeral Martins is approached by two British military policemen, Major Calloway, played by Trevor Howard and Sergeant Paine played with great cockney panache by Bernard Lee.  It turns out Sergeant Paine is a literary fan of Matins’ novels and indirectly facilitates the plot by introducing Martins to a literary society in Vienna that will bankroll Martins’ travelling expenses in return for a lecture on modern literature, a subject with which Martins is sorely unfamiliar.

But what Calloway and Paine are really interested in is warning Martins to leave Vienna to avoid the fallout from the police investigation into the criminal activities of his friend Harry Lime.  Martins is insulted by the statement that his friend was a criminal and decides to stay in Vienna to find out what really was the case with his friend and somehow clear his name with the police.

Through a meeting with one of Harry’s friends Holly finds out about Harry’s girlfriend Anna and he goes to see her to try and get the true story from her.  As Holly and Anna talk about Harry, we find out that she is like Holly an idealistic individual that Harry charmed and dragged into his dangerous but exciting life.  We begin to suspect that the police are right about Harry.  And together Holly and Anna discover some strange details about Harry’s death.  The building porter reveals to them that when Harry was run down by the truck, in addition to the two friends of Harry’s that stayed to give testimony to the police about the accident there was a “third man” who did not stay but rushed away.  And the porter’s story differed from the account that Holly was given by Harry’s friends, in ways that could only be obvious lies.

As the couple begin to ruffle feathers there begins some fallout.  Anna is visited by the police, including Calloway and Paine.  It turns out that she has a passport that Harry manufactured.  And because of this she will have to be deported to the Russian zone for eventual deportation to Czechoslovakia.  Further fallout occurs with the subsequent murder of the porter.  And finally, one of Harry’s “friends” threatens Holly if he continues looking into Harry’s death.  When Holly defies him, some thugs pursue Holly through the nightscape of bombed out Vienna.  He escapes and ends up at Anna’s apartment where we find that he is falling in love with her.  But just when the movie is drifting away from Harry, Anna’s cat down on the street below her apartment signals that a stranger is lurking and when a window in one of the adjoining apartments flashes on, it reveals that the lurker is Harry Lime.  Holly runs out to catch him but Lime escapes into an entrance to the sewers of Vienna.

And now Holly contacts Harry’s friends that he knows Harry is alive and wants to meet him in a public (safe) place; a giant Ferris Wheel nearby in the city.  And sure enough, Harry shows up and they get into one of the cars of the wheel and talk.  And now Holly learns the truth about Harry.  He is the criminal mastermind who runs a stolen penicillin racket.  Holly tells him that the police have discovered that a medical orderly that was in on the penicillin racket was murdered to provide Harry’s “body” for his faked death.  When Holly confronts him with the deaths that have occurred from the diluted drugs he sells Harry reveals just how callous and Machiavellian he truly is.  Harry reiterates his desire to have Holly join him in his criminal enterprise but he also clearly warns him that bringing in the police would be a very dangerous thing for Holly to do.

Holly decides that because of Harry’s poor treatment of Anna he will make a deal with Calloway to allow them to catch Harry in exchange for Calloway fixing Anna’s deportation problem.  When Anna finds out that her freedom is being purchased at the cost of Harry’s betrayal to the police, she rejects it and also rejects Holly’s affection.  She says she will remain loyal to Harry.  Holly then decides to leave Vienna and leave Harry, Anna and the police to their own devices.  But on the way to the airport Calloway brings Martins to the hospital where the child victims of Harry’s drugs are housed.  Their broken bodies fill Martin with remorse and he agrees to be the bait in a trap to catch Harry.  Harry shows up and at the last second Anna shows up and warns Harry away.  A pursuit follows with police guarding all the exits from the sewer system.  Holly, Calloway and Paine are in on the hunt.  Finally with Harry cornered, Holly too openly approaches Harry.  While Paine attempts to pull Holly back out of the line of fire, he is himself fatally shot by Lime.  Calloway manages to shoot Lime as he retreats to a last exit below the street.  Unable to exit the sewer grating he waits as Holly approaches him with Paine’s gun in hand.  Harry looks at Martins and nods his head in acceptance and a shot rings out followed by Martins walking back to the police line.  At the second burial of Harry Lime we see Calloway and Martins.  Anna is there separately.  Calloway has his jeep and is once again supposed to drive Martins to the airport.  But as they pass Anna, Martins tells Calloway to let him out.  The final shot is a long take of Anna approaching a waiting Martins and then continuing on without looking at him at all.

This is in many ways an utterly strange movie, especially from an American point of view.  There is something disturbing to the American sensibility about the degraded and broken aspect of Vienna.  This is communicated in the images of the broken cityscape but also in the furtiveness and guarded nature of the inhabitants’ speech and behavior.  Dishonesty and criminality and just the wretchedness of life in the shattered place pervades the movie.  Also, the film has a soundtrack that is a repetition of a song played on a zither.  This is a stringed Eastern European instrument that I can’t claim to enjoy all that much.

By contrast, the Anglophone characters, Martins, Calloway, Paine and eventually Lime are wholly different.  They exude energy and confidence.  They seem to be bits of normalcy suspended in this fog of hopelessness.  Even Harry Lime, the criminal mastermind has that American quality to speak openly and unashamedly even about his evil.  He swims in this putrid ocean but he hasn’t assumed the coloration of his surroundings.

As I said the story is very strange and I think off-putting.  But the scene at the Ferris Wheel is very interesting.  We get to hear the devil defend his trade.  And that I think is the interesting thing about the movie.  Calloway and Paine are fun in their proper Englishness.  The Holly/Anna relationship really didn’t do much for me.  So, the show is Holly and Harry.  And coming right down to it it’s Harry.

And the essence of Harry is his parting shot to Holly at the Wheel.  “Don’t be so gloomy.  After all it’s not that awful.   But what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce?  The cuckoo clock.  So long Holly.”

So Harry is the charming, interesting devil you know and like.  The point of the story, if there is a point, is that charming and familiar as he is, he’s still the devil and you can’t let him kill kids even for old times’ sake.

So am I recommending the movie?  Maybe I’m a bit of a xenophobe.  I’m put off by the atmosphere of the movie.  And I know that is mostly my parochial tastes.  Because after all this is a film noir and they’re always supposed to exude seediness and unwholesomeness.  I seem to excuse it in many of the film noirs from America.  So, let’s say I call this a good film, which it is, but throw in some cautions for those who are xenophobic like me and despise zither music.

High Sierra (1941) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

High Sierra was Humphrey Bogart’s first starring role.  He plays Roy Earle, a veteran gangster sent to prison in Chicago for life.  But after ten years one of his old bosses, Big Mac, manages to get him a pardon and arranges for a car and some money to allow Roy to come to California to head up a jewelry heist in a wealthy desert resort where the ultra-wealthy winter.  Mac has recruited a couple of young small-time thieves Babe and Red to assist Earle.  The other part of the ring is the hotel night manager Louis Mendoza who will provide the inside information.

But Roy gets a surprise when he arrives at the meeting place, a mountain cabin park.  Babe has picked up a girl named Marie from a dance hall and brought her along. Roy angrily tells his crew and the girl that she has to go.  Marie, played by Ida Lupino, goes to talk to Roy and convinces him that she is the most trustworthy member of the crew.  She admits that she knows the plan of the heist because Mendoza talks too much.  After a few more incidents between Marie and Babe and Red, Roy decides to have her stay in his cabin and lays down the law with the two young men.

After this a romantic relationship begins between Roy and Marie, although he warns her that love is not a possibility for her with him.  Roy’s heart has been caught by a young farm girl that he has met while travelling to California.  Velma is travelling with her grandfather and grandmother from Ohio to live with her recently remarried mother in Los Angeles.  Roy has had the chance to help the family out as they struggle to pay for the trip cross country.  Their country roots remind him of his own family from rural Indiana and Velma’s unspoiled beauty and unaffected manner charms him.  The girl has a clubbed foot and Roy enlists a mob doctor he knows to arrange for a surgeon to operate on the girl’s foot to repair the problem.  But after the surgery Velma declines his offer to marry him.  She has a boyfriend back in Ohio that she is still interested in.  Roy takes the refusal hard but promises to come back when she has healed from her surgery to see her walk and say goodbye to the family.

Finally, conditions at the hotel are right for the heist.  Marie and Roy take one car and Babe and Red in another.  While Babe and Red are breaking open the safety deposit boxes Roy guards the lobby and Marie is in one of the cars watching for trouble.  She warns them of the approach of a late-night couple arriving at the hotel and Roy holds them on one of the lobby couches along with the bell boy.  But finally, an armed security guard enters.  Roy gets the drop on him but when the scream of the woman on the couch distracts Roy the guard pulls his gun and they exchange shots.  The guard is fatally wounded and Roy is struck on the side.

Rattled by the shooting Mendoza refuses to remain behind to claim his innocence as the plan required and instead goes in the car with Babe and Red.  The two cars take off but the car with the three men takes the wrong road and crashes along a hairpin turn.  Babe and Red are killed and Mendoza injured.  Mendoza is picked up by the police and Roy and Marie return to the cabin without incident.  Roy goes to visit his friend the mob doctor who tends to his wounds.  Then he goes to Mac but finds he’s died of a heart attack.  Following instructions Mac had given him earlier he passes the gems onto a mob contact who gives Roy a little money in advance and the promise that the deal with the big boss would be transacted soon and Roy would get his cut.  While waiting for this Roy goes to see Velma and meets her fiancé whom he immediately takes a strong dislike to.  Velma berates Roy for his jealousy and he leaves.  Now Roy sees Marie’s loyalty and love for him in a new light and promises that as soon as they get their money, they’ll start a new life together.

But all his plans fall apart as the newspapers are full of the story of the heist.  Mendoza has confessed and named Roy as the mastermind of the plot and the murderer of the guard.  Roy puts Marie on a bus to escape the dragnet and promises to catch up with her later when he gets clear.  But Roy is soon identified and the police pursuit corners him in a blocked pass in the Sierra Nevada.  Roy climbs up into the hills and holds the police off with a machine gun.  Marie hears report of the stand-off and heads back to be near him.  A reporter recognizes her from her description and the police try to persuade her to call to Roy to give himself up.  But she refuses.

The police manage to get a sharp shooter with a high-powered rifle on the cliff that overlooks Roy’s position.  And when Roy’s dog Pard escapes from Marie and runs toward Roy’s voice as he banters with the police the dog’s barking reveals to Roy that Marie must be nearby.  He runs out onto the exposed rocks calling her name and is killed by the sniper.

This movie is a sort of combination gangster movie and melodrama.  Even though Ida Lupino got the top billing because of her established reputation at the time really the movie belongs to Bogart.  He plays the part as naturally as any of his later roles.  The plot moves along pretty well and even the Velma plot line isn’t too distracting.  At times I think Lupino is given a little too much melodrama to successfully portray but I think the movie holds up pretty well.  And there are a few character actors in supporting roles; Henry Hull as Doc Banton, Henry Travers as Velma’s grandfather and Donald MacBride as Big Mac that add human interest to the story.  One sort of interesting bit of trivia, the dog Pard was played by Zero, Bogart’s own pet dog.

I think Bogart has half a dozen movies in his resume that are better than High Sierra.  That being said this is a good movie.  I can recommend it.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The true story of the Bounty is an amazing tale. There are sea voyages on wooden sailing ships that took multiple years and girdled the Earth on routes that threaded the Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope to get to such amazing places as Tahiti must have been in the eighteenth century.  Then the human drama of a crew finally rebelling against a merciless tyrant and then escaping the whole British navy to start a new life on a remote island from which they could never return.  Bligh’s unbelievable 3,500-mile sea voyage after being set adrift in a life boat.  And finally, the trial of the men who were captured on Tahiti after the mutiny.

Hollywood found the perfect Captain Bligh in Charles Laughton.  His strutting, bellowing Bligh is an inhuman monster of legendary proportions.  When a seaman whose knees are raw sores asks for water to wash the sand of the deck out of his wounds Bligh orders him to be keel-hauled.  That means he was dragged the whole length of the ship bottom against a barnacle encrusted hull.  Naturally he doesn’t survive.

And Clark Gable is an excellent Christian Fletcher.  His defiance of Bligh before the mutiny is measured and prudent but when the outrages become insurmountable, he finally snaps and leads a mutiny that takes the ship and sends Bligh and his loyal followers out onto the open sea.  The movie presents us with Fletcher sailing the ship to Tahiti and allowing his men to take Tahitian wives.  When the British come looking for them Fletcher leads all of them to Pitcairn Island on the Bounty where they start a new life.

Franchot Tone portrays Midshipman Byam a friend of Fletcher’s who refuses to join the mutiny but is forced to remain with the mutineers.  When the Bounty flees Tahiti Byam remains to return with the British but he is accused of mutiny by Bligh and ends up on trial for his life.  According to the movie the trial is the cause célèbre that eventually caused the British Navy to reform their treatment of enlisted men.

Along with these leads there are a dozen other supporting characters that are each engaging and entertaining.  The seamen, the officers, the Tahitians, the Admiralty Court Martial.  Each is given screen time to tell a story.  One of the standouts for me is Dr. Bacchus, the one-legged, constantly inebriated ship’s surgeon who provides medical help and moral support to the victims of Bligh.  His other amusing characteristic is the constantly changing story of how he lost his leg.  One time it was in a sea battle against John Paul Jones.  Next, it’s a French frigate and after that a Spanish galleon.

As I said at the start, the true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty is an amazing tale.  The 1935 movie is based on a fictionalized account.  There are many inaccuracies that have been added to the story.  For instance, Bligh was not the captain of the ship that brought back the mutineers from Tahiti and chased the Bounty.  There is no record that a sailor was keel-hauled and died by Bligh’s order.  And Bligh did not attend the court martial.  But it is a remarkable movie nevertheless and it is still very entertaining eighty-five years after it was made.  I highly recommend it for all fans of adventure stories.