Category: Forgotten Classics

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Published December 17, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life (poster 1)
At this time of year, how could I not do a post about It’s a Wonderful Life? Much has been written about this most cherished of holiday movies — the AFI has it listed on numerous lists, including the number 1 spot on the Most Inspirational Movies of all time:

1998 AFI’s 100 Years – 100 Movies #11
2002 AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Passions #8
2003 AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Heroes and Villains:
George Bailey, hero #9
Henry F. Potter, villain #6
2006 AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Cheers #1
2007 AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) #20
2008 AFI’s 10 Top 10 #3 in the genre of Fantasy

While many of us grew up watching this holiday chestnut, there are a great number of unlearned souls who have never had the privilege — especially since NBC rescued it from Public Domain and only airs it twice each Christmas season — I intended to remedy that right now.
It's a Wonderful Life (poster 2)
Before doing so, I thought I would post Jimmy Stewart’s own reminiscences about this, his favorite film. This is long, but well-worth the read.

JIMMY STEWART REMEMBERS IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
by Jimmy Stewart (1977)

A friend told me recently that seeing a movie I made in 1946 is a holiday tradition in his family, “like putting up the Christmas tree”. That movie is It’s a Wonderful Life, and out of all the 80 films I’ve made, it’s my favorite. But it has an odd history.

When the war was over in 1945, I came back home to California from three years’ service in the Air Force. I had been away from the film business, my MGM contract had run out, and frankly, not knowing how to get started again. I was just a little bit scared. Hank Fonda was in the same boat, and we sort of wandered around together, talking, flying kites and stuff. But nothing much was happening.

“I WISH I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS … HOT DOG!”
I Wish I Had A Million Dollars
Then one day Frank Capra phoned me. The great director had also been away in service, making the Why We Fight documentary series for the military, and he admitted to being a little frightened too. But he had a movie in mind. We met in his office to talk about it.

He said the idea came from a Christmas story written by Phillip Van Doren Stern. Stern couldn’t sell the story anywhere, but he finally had 200 twenty-four page pamphlets printed up at his own expense, and he sent them to his friends as a greeting card.

“Now, listen,” Frank began hesitantly. He seemed a little embarrassed about what he was going to say. “The story starts in heaven, and it’s sort of the Lord telling somebody to go down to earth because there’s a fellow who is in trouble, and this heavenly being goes to a small town, and …”

Frank swallowed and took a deep breath. “Well, what it boils down to is, this fellow who thnks he’s a failure in life jumps off a bridge. The Lord sends down an angel named Clarence, who hasen’t earned his wings yet, and Clarence jumps into the water to save the guy. But the angel can’t swim, so the guy has to save him, and then …”

Frank stopped and wiped his brow. “This doesn’t tell very well, does it?”

I jumped up. “Frank, if you want to do a picture about a guy who jumps off a bridge and an angel named Clarence who hasn’t won his wings yet coming down to save him, well, I’m your man!”

“THIS IS A VERY INTERESTING SITUATION”
A Very Interesting Situation
Production of It’s a Wonderful Life started April 15, 1946, and from the beginning there was a certain something special about the film. Even the set was special. Two months had been spent creating the town of Bedford Falls, New York. For the winter scenes, the special effects department invented a new kind of realistic snow instead of using the traditional white cornflakes. As one of largest American movie sets ever made until then, Bedford Falls had 75 stores and buildings on four acres with a three block main street lined with 20 full grown oak trees.

As I walked down that shady street the morning we started work, it reminded me of my hometown, Indiana, Pennsylvania. I almost expected to hear the bells of the Presbyterian church, where Mother played the organ and Dad sang in the choir. I chuckled, remembering how the fire siren would go off, and Dad, a volunteer fireman, would slip out of the choir loft. If it was a false alarm, Dad would sneak back and sort of give a nod to everyone to assure them that none of their houses was in danger.

DONNA REED AS MARY (HATCH) BAILEY — simply gorgeous
Donna Reed as Mary (Hatch) Bailey
I remembered how, after I got started in pictures, Dad, who’d come to California for a visit, asked, “Where do you go to church around here?”

“Well,” I stammered, “I haven’t been going — there’s none around here.”

Dad disappeared and came back with four men. “You must not have looked very hard, Jim,” he said, “because there’s a Presbyterian church just three blocks from here, and here are the elders. They’re building a new building now, and I told them you were a movie star and you would help them.” And so, Brentwood Presbyterian was the first church I belonged to out here.

Later that church was the one in which Gloria and I were married. A few years after that it was the same church I’d slip into during the day when Gloria was near death after our twin girls were born. Then after we moved, we attended Beverly Hills Presbyterian, a church we could walk to.

PRELUDE TO A KISS
Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed
It wasn’t the elaborate movie set, however, that made It’s a Wonderful Life so different; much of it was the story. The character I played was George Bailey, an ordinary kind of fella who thinks he’s never accomplished anything in life. His dreams of becoming a famous architect, of traveling the world and living adverturously, have not been fulfilled. Instead, he feels trapped in a humdrum job in a small town. And when faced with a crisis in which he feels he has failed everyone, he breaks under the strain and flees to the bridge. That’s when this guardian angel, Clarence, comes down on Christmas Eve to show him what his community would be like without him. The angel takes him back through his life to show how our ordinary everyday efforts are really big achievements.

Clarence reveals how George Bailey’s loyalty to the job at the building and loan office has saved families and houmes, how his little kindnesses have changed the lives of others, and how the ripples of his love will spread through the world, helping make it a better place.

Good as the script was, there was still something else about the movie that made it different. It’s hard to explain. I, for one, had things happen to me during the filming that never happened in any other picture I’ve made.

In one scene, for example, George Bailey is faced with unjust criminal charges and, not knowing where to turn, ends up in a little roadside restaurant. He is unaware that most of the people in town are arduously praying for him. In this scene, at the lowest point in George Bailey’s life, Frank Capra was shooting a long shot of me slumped in despair. In agony I raise my eyes and following the script, plead, “God … God … dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if You’re up there and You can hear me, show me the way, I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God …”

As I said those words, I felt the loneliness and hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless had reduced me to tears.

Frank, who loved spontaneity in his films, was ecstatic. He wanted a close-up of me saying that prayer but was sensitive enough to know that my breaking down was real and that repeating it in another take was unlikely. But Frank got his close-up anyway.

The following week he worked long hours in the film labratory, again and again enlarging the frames of the scene so that eventually it would appear as a closeup on screen. I believe nothing like this had ever been done before. It involved thousands of individual enlargements with extra time and money. But he felt is was worth it.

JIMMY STEWART AND DONNA REED – publicity shot
Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart
There was a growing excitement as we strove day and night through the early summer of 1946. We threw everything we had into our work. Finally, after three months, shooting some 68 miles of 35-millimeter film, we complete filming and had a wrap up party for everyone. It was an outdoor picnic with three-legged races and burlap-bag sprints, just like the picnics back home in Pennsylvania.

At the outing, Frank talked enthusuiastically about the picture. He felt that the film as well as the actors would be up for Academy Awards. Both of us wanted it to win, not only because we believed in its message, but also for the reassurance we needed in this time of starting over.

But life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. The movie came out in December 1946, and from the beginning we could tell it was not going to be the success we’d hoped for. The critics had mixed reactions. Some liked it (“a humble drama of essential truth”), others felt it “too sentimental … a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes.”

As more reviews came out, our hopes sank lower and lower. The postwar public seemed to prefer lighthearted fare. At the end of 1947 It’s a Wonderful Life ranked 27th in earnings among the other releases that season.

And although it earned several Oscar nominations, despite our high hopes it won nothing. “Best picture for 1946” went to The Best Years of Our Lives. By the end of 1947 the film was quietly put on the shelf.

GEORGE BAILEY … THE RICHEST MAN IN TOWN
The Finale
But a curious thing happened. The movie simply refused to stay on the shelf. Those who loved it loved it a lot, and they must have told others. They wouldn’t let it die any more than the angel Clarence would let George Bailey die. When it began to be shown on televison, a whole new audience fell in love with it.

Today I’ve heard the filmed called “an American cultural phenomenon.” Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It’s simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life.”


IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S MODERN TIMES

Published December 15, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: Yet another case of these categories being limiting. In many respects, Charlie Chaplin is not only an auteur, he was The Original Auteur. However, I am not going to file this post under The Auteurs, simply because this is indeed one of The Best Damn Movies EVER.
Modern Times Lobby Card
I’ve always loved Charlie Chaplin — although of late, I’ve been quite lax in my appreciation. Over the weekend, however, I re-watched Richard Attenborough’s 1992 bio-pic Chaplin. The film has a number of flaws — not the least of which is trying to cram such a long and complex life into 135 minutes. If there is a saving grace to the film, it is the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie, stunning in its nuances and physical grace. I knew that our government (in particular, J. Edgar Hoover, puh-tooey!) had spent a great deal of money in trying to prove that The Little Tramp was, in fact, a Communist — all this because the little guy was constantly (yet innocently) thumbing his nose at authority, sticking it to the man long before it was hip to do so — but this film refreshed my memory about how shabbily he was treated. After Chaplin took a brief vacation abroad in the 1950s, he was refused re-entry into the US — not this nation’s proudest hour. Regardless, watching this bio-pic fired up my Chaplin jones again. (Chaplin briefly and triumphantly returned to the US in April 1972, to receive an Honorary Oscar — he was welcomed warmly.)
Charlie and the Machine
In 1936, Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in Modern Times — considered by many, including me, to be his masterpiece. Chaplin also wrote the score, from which the moving song Smile was taken. (Call me sentimental, but this song gives me chill bumps every time I hear it.)
Modern Times poster
Modern Times has Chaplin’s Little Tramp struggling to survive in a modern, industrialized society. It also makes strong comments on the depression era, which oddly, given our economic crises, still resonates today. The 87-minute film, which is really a succession of classic and hilarious set pieces, was the final “silent” appearance of Chaplin’s most famous alter-ego — although the film does have sound and The Little Tramp does sing in mock French and Italian near the end of the movie. Our hero struggles against industrialization, has a nervous breakdown, is mistaken for a Communist, goes to jail (numerous times), falls in love with a street urchin (the luminous Paulette Goddard), gets a number of jobs, gets fired from all of them, and yet, through it all, remains upbeat and optimistic.

PAULETTE GODDARD AS THE GAMINE – painfully pretty
Paulette Goddard
It had been a little while since I had seen this film, but watching it again this weekend, in the midst of a bad case of holiday blues, made me laugh out loud a goodly number of times. Charlie cheered me up, which I suppose is his ultimate legacy: in the hardest of times, he cheered us all up. In this economically unstable climate — 70+ years after the film was made — Modern Times is as relevant today as it was then. Maybe even more so.

“WE’LL GET ALONG.”
The Little Tramp heads toward the horizon … this time not alone.

If you’ve never seen it, you are in for a treat — one of the funniest movies ever made. Favorite bits: the “feeding” machine, the stomach growls and the dog, “Find me a wedge,” the lady with the “nuts” on her dress, the cocaine and the sugar shaker, the roller skates in the department store and … too many others to mention.

Bon appétit.


CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S MODERN TIMES (1936)

DUDLEY MOORE’S ARTHUR NEEDS DVD UPGRADE

Published December 4, 2008

If one takes into account the “laugh quotient” while considering the funniest movie of all time, certainly one of the top contenders would have to be 1981’s Arthur. Bravo places it at number 10 on their list of the 100 Funniest Movies, AFI has it at a criminally-low 53. This Dudley Moore vehicle has more genuine laughs-per-minute than most modern comedies put together.
Arthur
Written and directed by Steve Gordon (who died tragically of a heart attack the following year), Arthur tells the story of a rich and besotted playboy millionaire, Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore), whose arranged marriage to a wealthy heiress is complicated when he falls in love for real with a shoplifting waitress (Liza Minnelli). John Gielgud co-stars as Hobson, Arthur’s valet, and won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems this film has not gotten near the respect it is due. While it has been released on DVD twice — the first being a full-screen hack job with no bonus features, the second a coupling with 1988’s sub-par sequel, Arthur 2: On The Rocks, also pan and scan — this film is screaming for a video upgrade. With Steve Gordon, Dudley Moore and John Gielgud already gone, it is too late to get any new interviews — but perhaps some über-documentarian like Laurent Bouzereau can whip up some kind of tasteful retrospective. Now that we’re in the age of Blu-Ray, it is high time for this film to receive the widescreen deluxe treatment it deserves.

Many younger viewers have never even heard of this film, which is sad. No kids, alcoholism is not funny … but this movie is. In fact, it’s hysterical. Despite Arthur’s constant drinking, I’m not sure he constitutes an official alcoholic — at least not in “movie reality” — he’s just rich and bored. Nobody plays a genial, good-natured drunk like Dudley Moore; this despite the fact that he rarely drank. Ironically, when the first symptoms of Moore’s degenerative brain disorder (which tragically took his life in 2002) first appeared, many thought he was drunk.

The film was nominated for four Oscars, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Song — it won for the last two.

On a final note, it was recently announced that British comedian Russell Brand is in talks to star in a remake of Arthur. To this I say STOP ALREADY! Enough with the remakes! Especially of beloved films like this. Is nothing sacred? Moore, Gielgud and Gordon are rolling over in their graves at this news.

MICHAEL CRICHTON’S GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY

Published November 7, 2008

Renaissance storyteller Michael Crichton died this week, at age 66, after a long battle with cancer. While most know him as an author, The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Sphere, Rising Sun, Disclosure, to name only a few, he is best known for penning Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World. He assisted screenwriter David Koepp in adapting the former for Steven Spielberg. He also worked with Spielberg in creating and producing the long running TV drama ER.
Michael Crichton
Yet one of the most interesting aspects of his career, is the fact he was one of the only authors to adapt and direct his own novels for the Big Screen. (As a writer and cinema aficionado, I find this most fascinating.) Not all of the films he directed were based on his own work (like his take on Robin Cook’s Coma) and many of his films were original screenplays (Westworld, Looker, Runaway). But one of the best, and certainly one of my favorites, is Crichton’s 1979 effort The Great Train Robbery.
The Great Train Robbery
Based on his 1975 novel, it spins the (loosely based) true story of a massive gold heist which takes place on a train traveling through Victorian-era England. Starring Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and a bodice-bursting Lesley-Anne Down, The Great Train Robbery has all the ingredients of a first class action adventure, with healthy doses of romance, humor and jaw-dropping stunts (Connery’s work atop a speeding train, ducking low bridges, is amazing — it’s a wonder he didn’t lose his head). Jerry Goldsmith’s score is also wry and rousing.

Brimming with style and steampunk panache, this is one fun movie.

Never seen it? I’ve got it for you right here.

Yes, it’s from Hulu — damn those commercials. (The embedded version below is not enlargable, but the version available here is.)


THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1979)

PSYCHO BABBLE – THE LEGACY OF NORMAN BATES

Published August 10, 2008

Janet Leigh
What’s the scariest movie of all time? Jaws? Alien? The Exorcist? The Shining? The Thing? Night of the Living Dead? No matter your taste, any top ten list of the most blood-chilling films ever made, would have to include (near the top) Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Since 1960 this twisted little thriller has been scaring generations silly with its tale of a conflicted bank employee, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who after stealing $40,000 from her employer, escapes Phoenix through the California desert. Growing weary, she checks into a little motel run by handsome and shy Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). What ensues is the stuff of cinematic legend.
Norman in front of Mother's house
Although it’s hard to believe some have never seen Psycho (most were probably born after the last sequel was made in 1990), for their sake I will keep this post as spoiler free as possible – not easy since this film has become so ingrained in our culture. Has there ever been a film that spawned so many imitators, homages and flat out rip-offs? (A couple of imitators bear mentioning simply because they nearly match Psycho in graphic restraint and unbearable levels of sustained suspense – namely, John Carpenter’s Halloween and Brian DePalma’s Dressed To Kill.) The influence of Hitchcock’s masterpiece cannot be overestimated – neither can Bernard Hermann’s effective, vastly imitated score. (DePalma’s Carrie featured Bates High School and a staccato-stringed score purposefully reminiscent of Hermann’s.) It spawned a genre that rarely matches, or even dignifies, the source. The American Film Institute has Psycho at #1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Thrillers, and at #18 of the 100 Greatest Films. Deservedly so.

THE BOY NEXT DOOR WHO RUNS THAT MOTEL
Anthony Perkins
Anthony Perkins, who for years hated his “Norman fame” (typecasting was inevitable), said this about that: “My resistance to Psycho ended one day in a hotel lobby, watching my reactions to people coming in and giving me their Psycho raps. Everyone has a Psycho story or two, and I used to give them my steely-eyed ‘go away’ look. My wife said, ‘You know, if you would just relax about this and not be so tense, you would give people the idea that you really aren’t like Norman and that it was only a role.’ … For years I’d been kind of bracing myself when I saw people coming across hotel lobbies or restaurant floors. The moment she said that, I realized what a smart line it was, and what a smart idea. I just dropped it from that moment. I’ve enjoyed it ever since.”

Perkins died at age 60, on September 12, 1992.
PSYCHO - DVD cover art
Psycho has had many incarnations on home video – the most recent was released in 1998 (see way below for a 2009 UPDATE on that last statement). For a decade-old DVD, this one’s hard to beat simply for its virtual treasure trove of bonus features. It includes a 94-minute documentary, The Making of Psycho (by acclaimed filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau) which is one of the most fascinating Making Of features I’ve ever seen. Interviews include January et Leigh, screenwriter Joseph Stefano, Pat Hitchcock and assistant director Hilton Green. This feature length doc (its almost as long as the movie) is alone worth the purchase price. Also included are:

Theatrical Trailer
Re-Release Trailers
Newsreel Footage – The Release of Psycho
The Shower Scene w/ and w/o music – Bernard Hermann, genius!
The Psycho Archives
Production Photographs
Behind the Scenes
Shower Scene storyboards
Lobby Cards
Posters and Psycho Ads
Production Notes
Cast and Filmmakers’ Bios
Film Highlights

This is a must own for any Hitchcock fan, and can be found online for under $15.  (UPDATE: the Psycho DVD, Legacy Edition, featured below, can now be found for the same bargain price as the one above, and is definitely worth the upgrade.  Find it at Amazon.)

MOVIE GRADE: A+
DVD BONUS CONTENT: A

In addition to the countless imitators I mentioned earlier, Psycho spawned three sequels, one TV movie (Bates Motel with Bud Cort – blechh!) and one remake (the less said about Gus VanSant’s 1998 shot-for-shot update, the better). Psycho II (1982), Psycho III (1986) and Psycho IV – The Beginning (1990) are all available now in a triple pack DVD, available on Amazon for under $10. Bargain!
PSYCHO II, III, IV - triple pack DVD
Are these sequels as good as the original? Of course not – how could they be? But they’re still pretty entertaining. (SPOILER WARNING: If you’ve never seen Psycho, you may wish to skip the synopsis and reviews of the sequels below.) Here’s the breakdown:

PSYCHO II (1983)
This sequel (stylishly directed by Hitchcock pupil Richard Franklin) set a record for the longest length of time between a film and its follow up. Filmed in 1982 (released in ’83), the tagline read: It’s 22 years later and Norman Bates is coming home. After years of treatment at a mental institution for the criminally insane, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) returns to his mother’s house and motel under the care of a psychiatrist (Robert Loggia). After getting a job at a local diner, Norman befriends a co-worker (Meg Tilly) and invites her home. But is “Mother” really gone? Anthony Perkins is marvelous here — sad, funny, scary and touching. Dennis Franz and original cast member Vera Miles also star in this surprisingly effective thriller. The script by Tom Holland (pre- Fright Night and Child’s Play) is clever, suspenseful, reverential and amusing. And, oh that production design — very cool to see this iconic house and motel in living color.
MOVIE GRADE: B+

PSYCHO III (1986)
After a disgraced nun (Diana Scarwid) and a no-good drifter (Jeff Fahey) show up at the Bates Motel, tragedy ensues. Anthony Perkins takes over the director’s chair this time and infuses much black humor into the story. After watching this in theaters during its initial run, I think I categorized it as suffering from an 80’s slasher fare mentality – yet rewatching it recently, it was much better than I remembered. It’s still the least of the series, but has an undeniably morbid charm … along with one verrrry sad death.
MOVIE GRADE: B-

PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING (1990)
Produced by Showtime, scripted by original Psycho screenwriter, Joseph Stefano, and directed by newcomer Mick Garris (who would later direct the Stephen King miniseries, The Stand and The Shining), this prequel finds Norman Bates calling into a radio talk show where the subject is matricide. When the host encourages him to share his story, Norman recounts his trials as a young boy living with his widowed schizophrenic mother. These haunting memories are more than just images of the past, they threaten to rekindle his killing urge in this spine-chilling thriller. Better than expected – great casting makes all the difference. Henry Thomas (Elliot in E.T.) is quite good as the teenaged Norman, as is the lovely Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), whose comely charms as young Mrs. Bates give her a sick edge whilst manipulating her innocent son. Not great art, but oddly compelling nonetheless.
MOVIE GRADE: B

To state the obvious, Psycho is one of my favorite movies of all time. And while these sequels are nowhere near as good, my nostalgic affection for the original may have affected my reviews by half a grade or so. For me these films put the mental in sentimental.

There is no bonus content on this 2-disc/3-film set (save for trailers), but the films are all presented in anamorphic widescreen (previous editions were not). However, much like the in-the-can, waiting-for-distribution Jaws documentary, The Shark Is Still Working, a similar project has been produced regarding the Psycho films. Robert Galluzzo (Icons of Fright Productions) and Chris Garetano (Horror Business) are the producers. “I was inspired to start this documentary for a number of reasons. The main one being a lack of one,” says Galluzzo. “Like many current horror filmmakers out there now, I was at the ideal age when all the sequels came out, and there’s very little material out there documenting the stories behind the making of those ‘Psycho’ sequels. I will cover the original movie, but there’s already so much out there about Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho.’ I’m really interested in answering all the burning questions fans have had through out the years about the sequels. And I can confidently say that I’ve already uncovered never-before-heard stories from the filmmakers involved.” This documentary, The Psycho Legacy, has not yet found a distributor, but a 12 minute preview is posted below.

UPDATE 9/22/2010THE PSYCHO LEGACY has found a distributor, and will be released in October 2010.  Click HERE for my review.

UPDATE: 1/1/09
Late last year, Universal released three Hitchcock films in their 2-disc Legacy Series. These included Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho. They are, all of them, worth every penny of the upgrade.  In fact, Amazon has the Psycho: Legacy Edition available for around $15.
Psycho - 2 disc Legacy series

DISC 1
Feature Commentary with Stephen Rebello
Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho
The Shower Scene
The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass
The Psycho Archives
Posters and Psycho Ads
Lobby Cards
Behind-the-Scenes Photographs
Production Photographs
Production Notes
Theatrical Trailers
Re-Release Trailers


DISC 2
The Making of Psycho
In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy
Hitchcock / Truffaut Interview Excerpts
Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Lamb to the Slaughter”

ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S NOTORIOUS

Published April 20, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: Part Four in a series highlighting films that may have escaped the notice of younger film lovers.

If you frequent this site, you’ve no doubt seen the plethora of PSYCHO movie banners in page rotation. I’m a longtime Hitchcock aficionado, so I’m surprised I’ve waited this long to post anything regarding his work. I intend to remedy that right now.

While I’ve long considered Hitchcock’s top 5 films to be Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho and The Birds, over recent years, one of his earlier films has crept into my heart and become one of my favorites.
Notorious poster
Notorious (1946) is Hitchcock’s tale of beautiful party girl, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a recently captured and convicted German spy. After her father commits suicide in prison, Alicia is approached by an American agent, T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant), who asks her to ingratiate herself among her father’s old Nazi friends — especially Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), who was once smitten with Alicia. In order to convince Sebastian of her loyalties, Alicia agrees to marry him. The catch: Devlin is in love Alicia (and vice-versa), but in order to ensure her safety and help her performance, he must convince her that he feels nothing for her. As an American spy married to a Nazi, Alicia’s life is in constant danger. Can Devlin get her out before it’s too late? Suspense, espionage, and romance abound in this wonderful film — one of The Master’s best.

Criterion gave this movie a decent DVD upgrade a few years ago. While I think many titles in the Criterion Collection are overrated, this one is a must for both serious and casual collectors.
Notorious - the Criterion Collection
I’d dare say movie stars have rarely been so beautiful and charismatic as they are in this film. The scene where Alicia and Devlin kiss while he is on the phone is one of the most passionate and believable onscreen kisses in history. Later, when Devlin must convince Alicia he doesn’t love her so that she can pull off her undercover mission, one can see the conflict and pain in his eyes.

A lovely, powerful film. If you have never seen it, I envy your chance to watch it for the very first time.


ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S NOTORIOUS – theatrical trailer

SUMMER OF ’42

Published April 14, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: This is part 3 of a series called The Best Damn Movies EVER, highlighting forgotten classics that many younger film lovers may have overlooked. This one is a bittersweet gem.

Director Robert Mulligan, who received worldwide acclaim for directing 1962’s powerful drama To Kill a Mockingbird, struck gold again in 1971 with the coming-of-age story, Summer of ’42.
Summer of '42 - original poster
Based on the memoirs of screenwriter Herman Raucher, the autobiographical story tells of Raucher’s teenage years on his family’s Nantucket Island vacation home. Named Hermie in the film (and played by Gary Grimes), the film opens with the 15-year-old playing on the beach with his friends, and spotting a newlywed young soldier carrying his bride into a beach house. All of the boys notice how beautiful the girl is, but Hermie is especially attracted to her. As the narration of Hermie’s grown self plays over this scene (actually voiced by director Mulligan), we know how traumatically this young man has been smitten.

“That house up there. That was her house. And nothing from that first day I saw her — and nothing that has happened to me since — has ever been as frightening, and as confusing. For no person I’ve ever known, has ever done more to make me feel more sure … more insecure … more important … and less significant.”

GARY GRIMES AS HERMIE
Gary Grimes as Hermie
JENNIFER O’NEILL AS DOROTHY
Jennifer O'Neill as Dorothy
Not long after, Hermie sees his unattainable war bride kissing her husband goodbye on the docks, as he ships off overseas. Soon after this, Hermie meets her on the street as she is picking up a dropped bag of groceries. Offering to help, Hermie packs up her groceries and follows her to her house on the beach.

NOTE: As played by Jennifer O’Neill, the woman, whose name is Dorothy, not only caused Hermie to fall madly in love with her, but countless men and boys who have seen this film since 1971 … including me. Please forgive the overabundance of screenshots which follow, but somehow this face speaks volumes about not only Hermie’s crush, but the appeal of O’Neill, and the power of this movie. This is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.
Jennifer O'Neill
Jennifer O'Neill and Gary Grimes
Hermie and Dorothy on the beach
Jennifer O'Neill
Jennifer O'Neill
As the unlikely pair strike up an innocent friendship, with Hermie often helping Dorothy with manly chores, the lad falls deeper and deeper into the slough of unrequited love. This to the dismay and bewilderment of Hermie’s two best friends, Oscy and Benjie (played by Jerry Houser and Oliver Conant), who have more typically crude teenage thoughts regarding sex and girls.

I abhor spoilers, but … one doesn’t need to be a genius to figure out where this story is going. One night when Hermie comes to visit Dorothy, he finds a telegram on her coffee table telling of the death of Dorothy’s husband. What ensues between the two of them is moving and powerful, heartbreaking and unforgettable.
Hermie comes to visit
Jennifer O'Neill
Goodnight Dorothy
I’m sure I’m not the only one so moved by this film. Even simply hearing the haunting, Oscar-winning theme by Michael Legrand, stirs something deep within me. Watch the video below to hear it.

In 2001, Summer of ’42 was turned into an off-Broadway musical play, which can still be seen around the country.

Jennifer O’Neill, who after a horrible history of physical abuse, failed marriages and countless miscarriages, has since become an author, speaker and a Christian minister, preaching the Good News to women all over the world. She remains beautiful and sweet, inside and out. She has also been trying to produce a sequel to Summer of ’42, where Dorothy and Hermie meet again after decades — to date, this has not got off the ground, but I would be interested to see it. For much more info on what she is doing today, check out her official website.

If you have seen this film, and you wonder if Herman “Hermie” Raucher ever made contact with the real Dorothy again, follow this link to the Summer of ’42 Wikipedia page, where you can read all about it. Pretty powerful.
Outside Dorothy's house
Summer of ’42 has been, and remains, one of my favorite films. If you are a sucker for romances, even of the melancholy kind, this is the movie for you. Seek it out.


HERMIE AND DOROTHY AFTER THE BAD NEWS
Warning: spoilers. Also low recorded volume — turn it up.