The movie clip below is from The Lady Vanishes, the 1938 mystery directed by Alfred Hitchcock. An elderly woman mysteriously disappears from a moving train, much to the bewilderment of the young lady who had been sitting and talking with her. Adding to her confusion is the fact that everyone else who is travelling in the same car denies that the old woman was ever there.
The scene below is from the delightful 1952 movie musical Singin' In The Rain, which stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor. It is set in the late 1920's when silent movies were transitioning to "talkies" and highlights a true to life problem encountered in the film industry at this time. Many of the silent stars, chosen for their looks and ability to emote silently, didn't have voices suited for the new medium. Also, movie dialogue suited to appearing on title cards would sound ridiculous if actually uttered by the characters. Added to this were the difficulties associated with figuring out how to mic the actors so that their dialogue was consistantly audible. All of these problems occur in the hilarious scene below. Lina Lamont is a big star of romantic movies, but her nasally voice and diction are more suited to a fishwife than the French noblewoman she's supposed to be portraying (in reality, Jean Hagen who played Lina had a lovely voice). Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), the leading man, assumes that he can get by just uttering the trite sentiments he used to mouth in love scenes, and the awful dialogue cuts in and out whenever one of them moves in the exaggerated gestures they're accustomed to using in silent films.
The resulting film, The Duelling Cavalier, is a complete diaster and it may very well end both Don's and Lina's careers if something isn't done to solve the problem. While this makes for a very funny musical, the truth is that many silent film stars could not make the transition to sound and faded away into obscurity. Just for fun, here's the disatrous premiere of The Duelling Cavalier:
The film clip below is from the 1937 Astaire & Rogers movie Shall We Dance. In it, Fred Astaire is Pete Peters, an American who has become famous as the principal dancer in a ballet company in Paris, under the stage name Petrov. Tired of just dancing ballet, Petrov- Peters- wishes to blend classical dance with more modern jazz dancing. While taking a ship back to America, he becomes acquainted with Linda Keene(Ginger Rogers), a well-known tap dancer. They spend time together and, due to a few misunderstandings contrived at by her scheming publicist, the rumour goes around that they are married. Once in the States, the rumour becomes even more pervasive and unknown to either Keene or Peters, her manager decides to fan the flames even more. They have a life sized mannequin of Linda Keene for publicity purposes and her manager dresses it in a filmy nightgown and sneaks it into Petrov's room one night while he's asleep. He sits it on the side of the bed where Petrov is sleeping soundly and takes some pictures, sneaks it back out, and then sends the photos to the papers, where they appear the next day. Having no clue how these pictures came into existence and unable to deny their marriage without causing a scandal, Peter and Linda decide to really get married, and then they can get a divorce and quell all the rumours... the logic behind this is a bit suspect, but it's a lot of fun. The music for the film is by George and Ira Gershwin and it contains some great songs: "Slap That Bass", "They All Laughed", and "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off", to name a few. And, of course, the song in the clip below "You Can't Take That Away From Me" which is sung after the two are married and contemplating getting divorced, which neither particularly wants.
Much is said- justifiably- about the partnership of Astaire and Rogers, but I'd like to also make mention of another dynamic duo which appears in this film: two of my favourite character actors from back in the day- Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, as Petrov's manager and the hotel manager, respectively. Together or apart, they're always great.
Happy Independence Day to our American neighbours! In honour of the occasion, this- actually small rather than silver screen- snippet is from the 1959-61 Disney series The Swamp Fox, a rather historically dubious account of the adventures of real life Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, alias the Swamp Fox. In the show, Marion is portrayed by a young Leslie Nielsen.
What is accurate is that Francis Marion harried the British forces with his irregulars, employing a strategy of lightening fast surprise attacks and equally fast retreats. The baddie in the clip below- Col. Tarleton- was an actual historic figure who was charged with capturing/killing Marion. It was Tarleton who actually coined Marion's nick name: after an attempt to capture his nemesis during which he and his troops unsuccessfully chased Marion and his men for over 26 miles through swampland, Tarleton groused, "As for this old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him."
The scene below is from Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 psychological thriller/murder mystery starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. In it, Bergman plays Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst at a mental hospital in Vermont. The hospital's director is suffering from nervous exhaustion and is being involuntarily retired; his replacement arrives- Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Peck). Though very attracted to him, Constance begins to notice some oddities about his character, eventually realizing that he is not actually Dr. Edwardes after comparing his signature with that of the real doctor. It turns out that he is a man suffering from amnesia; he can't remember who he is, but he confesses to Constance that he believes that he killed the real Dr. Edwardes. Unable- or unwilling- to believe that the man she has fallen in love with is capable of murder, she takes him, now wanted by the police, to her mentor and friend Dr. Brulov. She hopes that Brulov will be able to help her break through his amnesia and find out what really happened to Dr. Edwardes.
In 1946, one of the first movies to come out of post-war France was a live action version of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast- or rather, LaBelle et la Bete. Though adapted from a fairy tale, this film is more for adults than for children, with moments which are dark- almost gothic horror- as well as others which are surreal and dream-like. The effects are amazing for the time period, and the film- shot in glorious black and white- is beautiful to look at. It is, of course, entirely in French but it can be viewed with English subtitles. This version a lot closer to the original story than say, the Disney versions, but also is padded with extra characters and back story. Fun fact: the actor who plays Avenant (a Gaston-like character) also plays the Beast.
The scene below really highlights the beauty of the cinematography and also makes it obvious that Josette Day (who plays Beauty) was a ballet dancer before she was an actress:
Doris Day died last week at the age of 97. The first film I ever saw her in was Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much from 1956. In it, she plays Jo McKenna, a Broadway singer who is married to Dr. Ben McKenna (played by Jimmy Stewart). The couple are vacationing in Morocco and inadvertantly become involved in an international assassination conspiracy when a man who had been investigating the plot is stabbed on the street. Dr. Ben tries to treat him, but the man dies after gasping out some information about the assassination to him. The McKennas go to the police station to give a statement about what happened and what the man said but before they can do so, they receive a call telling them that their son Hank has been kidnapped and will be killed if they say anything.
Below is a scene from the 1982 movie adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy Blakeney A.K.A. The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Jane Seymour- and her hair- as Marguerite St. Just (her hair is so big in this film that it should have its own credit). The role of baddie Chauvelin is filled by Ian McKellan. While I will love Leslie Howard as Sir Percy forever and always (1934 version) Anthony Andrews is also quite good as both the heroic Pimpernel and the foppish Blakeney.
The Kid is a 1921 silent film which stars Charlie Chaplin who also wrote, directed, and produced the movie. In it, Chaplin is The Tramp, an impoverished man who finds an abandoned baby in an alley. At first he cares for the child reluctantly, but soon becomes fond of the kid. Five years pass as the two scrape by together, surviving by the Kid throwing rocks through windows after which the Tramp- a glazier- just happens to come by carrying panes of glass. Meanwhile, the Kid's mother, who deeply regrets abandoning her baby, is searching for him. In the scene below, the Kid (named John) is gets into a fight with a bully which leads to the Tramp tangling with the bully's older- and much larger- brother.
The Kid is ostensibly a comedy, but it has some very touching moments. At one point, for example, the Kid gets sick and requires a doctor. While there, the physician discovers that the boy isn't truly the Tramp's son and reports this to the authorities. Soon two men from the city's orphanage arrive to take the Kid away, by force if necessary. Jackie Coogan breaks my heart in this scene.
The movie clip below is from the delightful 1938 version of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion. The name derives, of course, from the sculptor Pygmalion on Ovid's Metamorphoses who falls in love with the ivory statue of a woman which he has carved. In the poem, the goddess Aphrodite turns the carving into a real woman and Pygmalion marries her. In Shaw's play, Prof. Henry Higgins makes a bet with a friend that he can take a poor flower girl- Eliza Doolittle- from the streets and pass her off as a duchess by teaching her to speak English properly. Of course, it is far more complicated than this, and the process of turning Eliza into a "lady" takes months of hard work and, for Eliza, shabby treatment by Higgins. Admittedly, though, Henry Higgins treats most people shabbily. In the scene below, the bet has been won, with everyone at the ball convinced that Eliza was a privileged member of the aristocracy. As they return home, Higgins and Col. Pickering are in a celebratory mood and don't notice that Eliza is strangely silent. She is realizing that she's existing in a kind of limbo: she can no longer fit into her old life of selling flowers on a street corner, but lacks the resources and connections to join the upper classes. And, infuriatingly, the mercurial Higgins hasn't even considered the position in which remaking Eliza has left her. She finally snaps, hurls his slippers at his head, and passionately tries to explain to the flummoxed Higgins why she's so upset. I love the pairing of Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller in the roles of Henry and Eliza- they're both terrific in their respective parts. The film obviously differs slightly from the play... for example, the ballroom scene was added, as was the formerly unseen character of Count Karpathy (these additions were actually written by G.B. Shaw for the film). The filmmakers also modified the ending so that Eliza comes back, rather than just running off with Freddie. Shaw was actually completely opposed to this change but it is, in my opinion, a much better ending than the one he wrote. Others obviously agreed: the 1956 musical My Fair Lady (and the 1964 movie) were adapted from the 1938 screenplay rather than Shaw's original work.