Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Talking heads, II

Like favourite books, film too provides a commonality of language.

Film History by Decade: 100 Years of Movies written and edited by Tim Dirks

The Petrified Forest (1936), 83 minutes, D: Archie Mayo
A screen adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's play. Vicious killer gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart, in his first major movie role), flees from the authorities with his gang, and holds out with a group of hostages at an Arizona desert roadside service station cafe, the Black Mesa Bar B-Q. Hostages include an idealistic, but disillusioned intellectual/writer Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) and the diner owner's daughter/waitress/poet Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), who dreams of a better life and falls in love with him.

The Good Earth (1937), 138 minutes, D: Sidney Franklin
MGM's beautiful film production of Pearl Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a peasant couple in rural China. A simple, poor Chinese rice farmer Wang Lung (Paul Muni) weds O-Lan (Luise Rainer) in an arranged marriage. They must endure hard labor, poverty, and a severe drought and famine. During government strife and a revolution that sweeps through the land, their lives are transformed and he becomes the wealthiest landowner in the province. Their efforts and their family disintegrate from his all-consuming greed for money and the devastating effects of a swarm of locusts. In the end, he learns too late that his long-neglected, self-sacrificing wife was the one who had held everything together.

Topper (1937), 98 minutes, D: Norman Z. McLeod
A delightful comedy/fantasy about a free-spirited, wealthy, fun-loving couple George (Cary Grant) and Marion Kerby (Constance Bennett) who are killed in an auto accident. Before they are granted entrance to heaven, however, they must perform a good deed for their bank president - to teach mild-mannered, stuffy and proper Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) to relax and enjoy life's pleasures. They appear at will as haunting ghosts, often at awkward moments, but only to Topper, taking pleasure at embarrassing him in humorous predicaments.

Stella Dallas (1937), 106 minutes, D: King Vidor
A classic and popular dramatic tearjerker/soap-opera, the best version of three attempts (also in 1925 and 1990). The film is the touching portrayal of an upwardly mobile small-town woman Stella Martin (Barbara Stanwyck) who marries an upper-class husband Stephen Dallas (John Boles) and enters into money, but is never able to escape her vulgar and coarse middle-class ways. She loses her husband when he leaves her for a former love, the widowed Helen Morrison (Barbara O'Neil). She then gives up their daughter Laurel (Anne Shirley) to her wealthy father, in a supreme act of self-sacrifice and selflessness, so she will not be in the way of her daughter's happiness or her social and romantic aspirations.

Jezebel (1938), 104 minutes, D: William Wyler
Bette Davis in a magnificent performance often compared to Gone With The Wind - offered to her as consolation by Warner Bros. because she was denied the role of Scarlett O'Hara. Headstrong, spoiled, self-centered Southern belle daughter Julie Morrison (Bette Davis) of a Southern aristocratic family in pre-Civil War New Orleans loses her fiancee Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda) when she stubbornly defies the convention of the day by wearing a scandalous red dress to the Olympus Ball. Embarrassed, he leaves and unbeknownst to her marries a Northerner Amy (Margaret Lindsay). When Preston returns three years later, she begs forgiveness but it is too late, and she suffers hurt and rejection. When an epidemic of yellow jack strikes, she begs Amy to accompany the mortally ill Preston to an island for quarantine and care for him. Davis won her second Best Actress Award for her performance.

The Lady Vanishes (1938, UK), 97 minutes, D: Alfred Hitchcock
Set just before WW II, a young woman (Margaret Lockwood) traveling on a train moving through Europe returning to England, with the help of fellow passenger Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave), seeks to locate a charming elderly lady Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) who has suddenly disappeared. A suspenseful film, when it is discovered that no one is willing to believe or accept that the lady has disappeared or that she even existed, and when her missing is linked to an espionage plot.

Pygmalion (1938, UK), 96 minutes, D: Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard
A delightful romantic comedy, the first film version of George Bernard Shaw's stageplay and screenplay. A stuffy diction/phonetics teacher, Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) makes a bet with a friend Col. Pickering (Scott Sunderland) that he can educate and transform a common, coarse Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) to pass as a captivating English lady/duchess of upper class breeding - within three months - at the Ambassador's Ball. In the process of transforming her, he falls in love with her.

Dark Victory (1939), 105 minutes, D: Edmund Goulding
A melodramatic tearjerker with Bette Davis in one of her most powerful roles. A high-living Long Island socialite/heiress Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) whose eyesight is starting to dim is diagnosed as having a brain tumor. After a seemingly successful operation by her surgeon, Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), she falls in love with him and finds happiness, only to discover that she actually has only one more year to live. First resorting to more meaningless parties, rejection of the doctor, and despair, she then finds true meaning and happiness in her life and adds great substance to her final days and dies with dignity.

Gone With the Wind (1939), 220 minutes, D: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood
de Havilland), and the ineffectual character of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), the story is told through great spectacle, romance, despair, conflict and travail. With a terrific, lyrical musical score by one of the greatest film composers of all time, Max Steiner.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), 114 minutes, D: Sam Wood
A sentimental romantic drama, the portrait of a caring, well-meaning, but shy and proper Latin schoolmaster Mr. Chipping ("Chips") (Robert Donat) at an English boys school, Brookfield School, in the late 1800s who devotes his life to his students. On a vacation, he finds romance with Katherine Ellis (Greer Garson in her American debut), his future wife, and she transforms his life. With her gentle and kind love and humanity, she is one of the few individuals who truly understands him, and helps him to overcome his shyness and rigidity. Although she passes away during childbirth, her lessons endure and he becomes a popular institution at the school until his retirement and death in his eighties.

Now playing:  Ennio Morricone - Cinema Paradiso


Lucindaville said...

You are so filmic! And let's talk least 3 of those films feature the musical stylings of the great Max Steiner.

You might enjoy our post on the Tilly Losch Carpet!

Love your work!!

HOBAC said...

L - tres impressed! Steiner also did Now Voyager one of my absolute favourites.