The 1944 movie Laura is a classic film noir, and a favourite of mine. It stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, and Clifton Webb, and is the tale of police detective Mark McPherson's (Andrews) investigation of the murder of socialite Laura Hunt. Confronted with a cast of suspicious characters -all who seem to have a reason to want Laura dead- McPherson must navigate through the seamy world of high society, attempting to discover Laura's killer as he finds himself growing ever more obsessed with the dead woman.
In this section of the novel, several of the plot lines are coming to a head... the fat is in the fire and sizzling merrily. Almost all of the major players are at the dinner party at Belpher, except of course Reggie and Alice who are blissfully honeymooning. Even in their absence, however, they have an effect on the proceedings. Reggie's marriage has dashed Lady Caroline's hopes for an alliance between him and Maud. At the same time, Reggie's nuptials have renewed Edwin Potter's hopes that Maud will regard him as a suitable and welcome replacement. He is, of course, delusional. Keggs is a background figure in this scene (he's serving dinner) but in reality he has orchestrated a good deal of what is occurring. With a vested (financial) interest in the outcome of Maud's romance, he is simultaneously conspiring with both Percy and George while serving his own ends. A cool and calculating man, is Keggs... but even he doesn't expect Lord Marshmoreton to cause a major upheaval by taking the bit in his teeth and announcing Maud's and George's engagement. While Lord Marshmoreton's precipitous declaration is mistaken and complicates life for both Maud and George, we can but be happy that he found the courage to make it. Always before in conflicts with Caroline or Percy, Lord M. has given in to their demands or done what they wanted because he wants a quiet, peaceful existence. We've seen him changing through his association with Billie and, to a lesser extent, George, becoming more willing to stand up for himself and take independent action. His championing of Maud's cause may be misguided but it's truly done out of his desire to see his daughter happily married to a man of her own choosing. Of course, we find out what has inspired Lord M. to take a stand during his confrontation with Caroline and Percy in the library: he himself has married someone- Billie- whom his family will consider wildly unsuitable- much more unsuitable, in fact, than Maud's supposed choice of George. It's a delight to see him get the better of his sister and -especially- Percy, and have him end up with goodhearted, down-to-earth Billie.
George now finds himself in the unenviable position of being believed engaged to the girl he wants to marry, but who is in reality betrothed to another man. Again we see his fine character as he shrugs aside his own embarrassment and dismay and concentrates on Maud's situation. He even goes so far as to suggest a way that she can be together immediately with Geoffrey: eloping just as Reggie did. Maud isn't enthusiastic about this idea, but eventually agrees to the plan. Now that most of the impediments are out of the way, however- she has her father's support, and Geoffrey has become independently wealthy- Maud appears to be dragging her feet a little. She has realized, as she tells George, that she is much more comfortable with him than she's ever been with the elusive Geoffrey. This isn't really surprising, because she has gotten to know George quite well through a number of trying incidents, while her actual acquaintance with Geoffrey was short lived and over a year ago. One gets the impression that if she didn't have so much time and effort invested in her star-crossed romance, she might be having second thoughts about the whole thing. It seems likely, however, that her pride will force her to go ahead with the elopement with Geoffrey even if it- or he-is no longer what she wants.
The night of the dinner party at Belpher Castle, Maud is jarred to find not one, but two rejected suitors seated at the table: George and Edwin Plummer, the man who had been proposing to Maud on the evening of Percy's birthday ball. He has convinced himself that Maud had refused him because she was planning to marry Reggie, but news has gotten out of Alice and Reggie's elopement and he's hoping to catch Maud on the rebound. George is also uncomfortable; he doesn't understand why he's been invited to the dinner and he's also shocked to see Billie Dore, who should be getting ready to go onstage in London at this hour, introduced as Lord M.'s new secretary. George makes conversation with the young lady he's seated next to- Plummer's sister- who turns out to be a big fan of musical theater. She is delighted to find out that George is the Mr. Bevin, famous composer, and announces it loudly to the rest of the table. George is embarrassed, but almost everyone else is delighted except Lady Caroline and Percy, whose plan to have George seem out of place and insignificant and thereby lose Maud's admiration, has failed miserably. His displeasure however is nothing compared to his outrage at what happens next. Lord Marshmoreton rises determinedly at the end of the table and clears his throat. When he has everyone's attention, he announces that Maud and George are engaged to be married and proposes a toast to their happiness. In the shocked silence which follows, there is a sudden sound of breaking glass... Keggs has dropped his serving tray.
Later, after dinner, Maud and George retreat to the terrace to try to figure out what to do. Maud starts making a choking sound and George thinks she's crying. It turns out that she's laughing at the memory of the look on her Aunt Caroline's face when Lord Marshmoreton made his announcement. She swiftly sobers though, when she realizes what this means; her father has sent an announcement of the engagement to the newspaper and after it appears, letters of congratulations and gifts will start arriving. She also worries that this will be very hard on George, but he tells her not to be concerned for him; he will do anything she thinks best to extricate Maud from this difficulty. Touched once again by his unselfish and caring attitude, Maud tells George that he is the best friend that she's ever had. She says that she's more comfortable talking to him than she is with anyone else, including Geoffrey. George informs Maud that, while in London, he took her letter to Geoffrey's uncle's house but found the house closed up. Maud tells him that she's received a letter from Geoffrey, and his uncle has died of a stroke while they were on a business trip and has left all his money to Geoffrey. There is now no reason for her family to object to their marriage. Geoffrey has asked Maud to come to London and discuss their future together, but now her engagement to George has been announced, complicating everything. Swallowing his disappointment manfully, George tells her that her path is clear: do as Reggie did and elope with Geoffrey. Maud is reluctant to do so, but eventually says that she will. As George prepares to leave, Maud asks him what he's going to do. He tells her that he has to go back to London for a short time, then return to America to work on a couple projects he's signed on to. They say good-bye, promising to always be friends.
Meanwhile in the castle, once the guests are gone Lady Caroline and Percy corner Lord Marshmoreton in his study and harangue him for announcing Maud's engagement to George. At first cringing, Lord M. finds his backbone and stands up to them, saying that Maud is in love and George is a fine man, not to mention rich. Caroline is not convinced and continues her diatribe until interrupted by Lord M's new secretary, Miss Dore, who enters the study and asks him if there's anything he needs done before she goes to bed. Lady Caroline answers for him, telling Billie that he won't be working on the history this night. After she leaves, Caroline resumes her argument, saying that, wealthy and nice or not, George is a nobody. She says that Miss Dore is a nice person, but how would he feel if Percy announced that he was going to marry her? Lord M. says that that would be impossible, gets up and goes to the door. Lady Caroline tells him that she's glad he has that much sense, but then Lord M. continues... it's impossible because he married Miss Dore himself on the previous Wednesday. He escapes out the door before either Caroline or Percy can react.
My nephews who are being home schooled showed me some of their work. Somehow, whether the subject was history or grammar (or anything else) guns, violence, and poop generally made an appearance. Don't even bother trying to tell me there's no difference between girls and boys.
This is an illustration from Charles Dickens' 1850 novel David Copperfield. After young David runs away from Mr. Murdstone's bottle factory in London, he makes his way to Dover to ask his father's sister Miss Betsey Trotwood for help. After an original misunderstanding, Betsey invites him in. While they are sorting things out, David is startled when his eccentric aunt suddenly bellows, "Janet! Donkeys!" She and her servant- Janet- then charge out the door brandishing various household implements and drive off some donkeys and their riders from the lawn in front of Betsey's house. It turns out that the right of way over this green area is in dispute. Betsey insists it is her property, but the donkey-boys, due either to stubbornness or perverse delight in inciting her rage, continually ride across it. This leads to Betsey and her loyal servant Janet sallying forth numerous times a day to do battle with the recalcitrant donkey-boys. I read David Copperfield for the first time when I was in grade eight. Filled with righteous anger at the revolting Mr. Murdstone and his appalling sister, I was delighted by the admittedly weird but goodhearted Betsey Trotwood- especially when she stands up to the Murdstones and tells them some plain truths about themselves. Incidentally, has there ever been a writer, in the history of the world, who has been as inspired as Dickens in the naming of characters?
I got these elderly copies of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers and Martin Chuzzlewit in a book sale at a secondhand shop this weekend. They cost me a whole dollar- buy one, get one free. My thrifty soul rejoices.
The movie 49th Parallel was filmed in 1941, early in W.W. II. It's a Powell and Pressburger film: they were British filmmakers who collaborated on 24 movies together over the years. Several of these were about the war, including this one. They were eager to aid Britain's war effort; Emeric Pressburger was especially motivated because he was a German Jew who had fled the country when the Nazi party gained power in the 1930's. After the war, he found out that his mother had died in Auschwitz. Powell and Pressburger freely admitted that 49th Parallel was meant to be propaganda: "I hoped it might scare the pants off the Americans," Powell said, wanting them to enter the war. Pressburger remarked, "Goebbels considered himself an expert on propagana, but I thought I'd show him a thing or two."
Certainly P &P wrote 49th Parallel with an eye on the American audience. That's why when the film was released in the States, the title was changed to The Invaders. Its message- one of them, anyway- was that Nazism wouldn't remain only in Europe... it could and would eventually arrive on North American shores. A couple of the characters speak to the futility of a policy of isolationism or neutrality: the trapper Johnnie, and the writer Philip Scott. Johnnie, who has been hunting up north for months, is unaware that war has been declared until Eskimo Nick tells him. He immediately thinks it's wrong that Canada has joined Britain in declaring war on Germany; what happens in Europe shouldn't concern Canadians, he says. Let them solve their own problems. Then, of course, the Nazis literally arrive on his doorstep.
Philip Scott, on the other hand, intends to let the vulgar, brutish war go by while he occupies himself with intellectual pursuits- his books, paintings, and music. Despite being British, he has no animosity for the Germans; one gets the impression that to him Germany means Goethe, Bach, and Nietzsche, not Hitler, Goring and Goebbels. After the two remaining Nazis pay him a visit however, he realizes that should the Germans win the war, everything he values culturally will be gone, and with it intellectual and creative freedom. The clear message of these two parts of the film is that, you may not want to go to war, but war will eventually come to you, one way or another.
The time that the renegade Nazis spend with the Hutterite community serves a couple of purposes. First, it demonstrates that regardless of what Hirth believes, all people of German blood aren't going to leap on the fascist band wagon just because they share common ancestors. What is important is not race or ancestry, but values, beliefs, and actions. The difference between living in a free country like Canada and what life would be like for them and- more important- their children under fascism is also clearly delineated. The Hutterites will not give up their present liberties to comply with Nazi ideology simply because they share common language and heritage.
The final scene involves Hirth interacting with AWOL Canadian soldier Andy Brock. Brock is griping about his posting and about the government, and Hirth takes this to mean that he is dissatisfied with life under Canada's political system. Brock quickly disabuses him of this notion: he says that Canadians can criticize their government and whatever else they want, because they're free to do so. What would - and did- happen to those in Germany who took issue with Hitler? Where does one go to vote out a fascist dictator? It is because Canadians need have no fear of their leaders that they can be as critical as they want to be, of anything they want to be, and say so.
I quite enjoyed 49th Parallel for a variety of reasons. It is not, however, without its flaws. Laurence Olivier plays Johnnie the French Canadian trapper, and his accent is well, not the best shall we say. The film's grasp of Canadian geography is also a bit suspect, especially directions and distances. For example, the Nazis start out walking from Manitoba to British Columbia. They can have no idea of how far this, because it would take an extremely long time; from Winnipeg to Vancouver is about 2313 km. Also, when the train is shown apparently crossing over the border into the U.S., it's actually going in the wrong direction. But really, these are mere quibbles. It's also true that this film doesn't have much of a plot: the Nazis are trying to make their way to the U.S.A. and the movie details their various attempts to do so. There's no mystery, clever plot twists, or anything else; just an examination of their efforts and interactions with various people along the way.
These interactions, though, are quite interesting. One would think that the people they meet would have very little in common; what does a fur trader have to do with a member of a strict religious sect, with an aristocratic author or with an undisciplined soldier? At first glance perhaps not much, but as the Nazis attempt to force their ideology on them, what is the same is their repudiation of this evil ideology, an unshakable belief in their rights and freedoms, and a willingness to stand against those who would threaten these liberties.
I'm always fascinated by movies which were produced during WW II, when no one knew how the war was going to end. This is one of them, as is Mrs. Miniver, Casablanca, and many others. Today, some dismiss these types of movies as propaganda, and seem to think that this decreases their value. I don't see it this way; in the midst of a terrible war which they might lose, the people who made these films clearly and unapologetically stated their values and identified the enemy they were fighting against. And I'm perfectly fine with that; I wish more movies today weren't so timid in proclaiming western values and identifying the actual threats to these values.