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Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Witches and the Grinnygog ( 1983 )

Those Brits have a knack for knowing how to spin a good yarn...especially when it comes to mystery, horror, and fantasy tales. Author Dorothy Edwards penned a particularly juicy children's mystery story entitled "The Witches and the Grinnygog" in 1981 which was made into an equally engrossing six-part miniseries for ITV in 1983. 
This intriguing tale of magic and witchcraft was aimed towards children of the pre-teen variety. Each 25-minute episode followed the adventures of four youngsters - two being the offspring of the local minister - as they try to piece together clues from an ancient diary belonging to an old vicar which are coinciding with strange events going on in their village. 

These bizarre happenings began to brew when the neighboring village's church of St. Cuthbert was dismantled. The old stone building is being rebuilt in a new location. A small gargoyle-like statue from the church falls off the back of the lorry carrying it en route to the new location. The mother of one of the children picks it up and, seeing that it would make a perfect "little man" for her father's garden, takes it home to Gramps ( John Barrard ). 

It happens to be a Grinnygog and its three guardians aka witches, magically appear in town to keep an eye on the garden statue. Also in town, is the enigmatic African anthropologist Mr. Alabaster ( Olu Jacobs ) who wants to see that the Grinnygog is returned to its rightful place. 

The Witches and the Grinnygog is very entertaining TV fare, but unfortunately, it ends with a number of loose ends not quite tied up. The audience is served bits and pieces of a puzzle in each episode that, at its conclusion, do not make a complete picture. Flashback sequences hint that witches were burned in the village in olden times but we are to suppose that the three guardians, endowed with eternal life, managed to escape with the Grinnygog, one of them losing her daughter as she fled. This girl comes to town later, appearing to not just the children, but the vicar as well, in search of her mother. But why did it take all these years for her to find her mother? Were the witches in limbo while the Grinnygog was safe and only now appear in the flesh again?
Sheila Grant, Anna Wing, and Patricia Hayes star as the three kindly guardians with Eva Griffith - whom some may recall as the blind girl in the BBC adaptation of The Day of the Triffids ( 1981 ) - portraying the missing daughter. The children's roles are played by Giles Harper, Heidi Mayo, Adam Woodyatt, and Zoe Loftin, who all give very natural and pleasing performances. 

Like most British kiddies, the appearance of witches in town does not startle them very much. This reminds me of the scene in Walt Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks when the children observe Mrs. Price taking her first whirl on the broom: "Look! She's flying on her broomstick," one of them says. "That's what witches do," the other calmly replies. Sure, everyone knows that...but it would startle most people to see it actually happen!

The Witches and the Grinnygog has not been released on DVD yet, but it is available for viewing on Youtube. Simply click here if you want to check it out - and I highly recommend that you do. Especially since it makes for great not-too-spooky Halloween viewing. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

From the Archives: Werewolf of London ( 1935 )


Henry Hull hiding behind loads of facial hair in this still from the Universal horror classic Werewolf of London ( 1935 ) which also featured Warner Oland, the beloved actor of the Charlie Chan series. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store : http://stores.ebay.com/Silverbanks-Pictures

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ( 1947 )

"Haunted.....how perfectly fascinating!"

Recently widowed Lucy Muir has left her London lodgings - and her in-laws - to come to White Cliff-on-the-sea with her daughter and loyal housemaid. There, situated atop a lovely coastal cliff, she finds her ideal home....Gull Cottage. It is up for rent.

"And priced at only 54 pounds per week. That's very inexpensive for a furnished house."

Strong-minded Lucy will not even let the thought of a ghost scare her away from Gull Cottage. The idea of returning to London and the life she led before is not a choice she wants to consider. Yea, even the gruff and determined Captain Daniel Gregg - the apparition she comes to meet there one dark and stormy night - yields to her wish to remain at his beloved home.

He had been frightening away, with his boyish pranks, all prospective tenants to Gull Cottage for the last several years and the fact that Mrs. Muir chooses to stay in spite of knowing he haunts the house wins her his admiration. 

During their coming year together, a gentle love blossoms between this roguish sea captain and the spirited Victorian widow. She comes to see Captain Gregg not only as a dear friend but as an anchor and a pillar of support. Their relationship deepens when Lucy – forced to earn money for payment of the cottage – pens the captain’s memoirs, “Blood and Swash”. However, when she meets the suave author Miles Fairley ( George Sanders ) while at the publishing house, the Captain realizes that his “Lucia” may be wanting the love, companionship, and reality of a mortal man.

"Real happiness is worth almost any risk…. but be careful me dear, there may be breakers ahead" 

Joseph Mankiewicz's wonderfully whimsical fantasy was released in theatres in 1947 to great commercial success. It was based on the novel, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir “ written two years earlier by author Josephine Leslie, who - like her character Lucy Muir - published her book under a much more masculine pseudonym...R.A. Dick.

20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the story shortly after its publication and selected Philip Dunne to rework it into a fitting screenplay for a feature film. Philip Dunne was a very talented screenwriter who had been nominated for an Academy Award in 1941 for How Green Was My Valley. He retained much of the essence of the book, and much of the plot, too - with the exception of eliminating the character of Mrs. Muir's son. 
What resulted from his penwork was a sweeping romance like none other of the era. The script, the actors, Mankiewicz’s direction, the breathtaking cinematography ( by Charles Lang Jr. ) and Bernard Herrman’s beautifully haunting score all combined to make The Ghost and Mrs. Muir one of the most enchanting, timeless, and delightful films ever made in Hollywood.

Rex Harrison is superb as our beloved sea captain – handsome, brawny, and blazed-eyed….a man in every sense of the word. While Gene Tierney is his perfect mate: beautiful, prim and respectable. And what they both shared was the spirit of adventure in their souls.

"How you’d of loved the North Cape and the fjords and the midnight sun…to sail across the reef at Barbados where the blue waters turn to green….to the Falklands, where a southerly gale rips the whole sea white…..Oh, what we’ve missed Lucia! What we’ve both missed." 

The rest of this excellent cast includes George Sanders ( playing his usual deliciously sly self ), character actress Edna Best as Mrs. Muir’s right hand arm and dear companion Martha, little Natalie Wood as daughter Anna, English stage legend Isobel Elsom as Lucy’s mother-in-law,Robert Coote as the real-estate agent, Anna Lee as “the wife”, and Austrian actress Vanessa Brown as the grown-up Anna. 

While “flesh and blood”, Captain Gregg must have been a magnificent seaman and one can imagine the loyalty he inspired in his men ( and perhaps some fear, too ) while aboard ship. Square shouldered, steadfast and weathered from his voyages, he was wise beyond his years, or as he described himself…

"I did not lead a very wise life but it was a full one and a grown-up one. You come to age very quickly through shipwreck and disaster and at the heart of the whirlpool some men find God."

Lucy Muir is quite an independent woman for the turn-of-the-century. Young, innocent and idealistic, she had married a man who had swept her off her feet, only to discover that he was not the romantic she had thought him to be. After his death, she wants to live a life of her own, free to make decisions without anyone warning her of society’s views on her actions. She finds her true self and her peace at Gull Cottage. And there amongst the splendor of the ocean she does not dream of her husband returning to life, but rather of a Gothic hero, a Flying-Dutchman spirit of adventure. A man who worships her as much as the fairest Lady he ever knew...the mighty Sea herself.

But is Captain Gregg a dream, or is he a man full of life and vigor just as much as Lucy? 

Years later, when Mrs. Muir’s hair is white and the driftwood by the beach battered and worn by the crashing tide, she still reflects upon her “dream” of the captain. In spite of being a very beautiful woman, she had chosen to live her days in the seclusion of Gull Cottage. And we have the notion that men were not something Mrs. Muir ever pursued again. The ideal nature of the captain and the comradery they shared would be a hard one for any mere mortal man to compete against.

Instead, all of Lucy’s real relationships are with other women….her maid being the only lasting friendship she has known. Her daughter later has her own life to lead and as such becomes as remote as the rest of the world that Lucy has turned her back against. But loneliness is something our heroine never knows, for she feels content and secure in her memories and secretly lives in hope of something as real as what she was dreaming of all those years.

In the hands of another director, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir may have been a tragic story...a story of lost love and regret and of a woman living out an empty life of isolation. But instead, under the direction of Joseph Mankiewicz, it becomes a magnificent magical romance. Gentle and warm and humorous, too. A tale of love transcending all boundaries.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman ( 1951 )

"The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it....

....Who said that?" muses archeologist Geoffrey Fielding. He had been observing American beauty Pandora Reynolds, an enchantress who lures men into loving her and then casts them aside when she discovers their love does not satisfy her longing. What is she longing for? Pandora herself does not know. That is, not until Hendrik van der Zee sails into the sleeping Spanish seaport of Esperanza and into her life. 

This mysterious, peaceful, and well-educated sea captain captures the attention of many, but particularly Pandora. Like the Grecian legend, it is he who is the box of delights that Pandora is curious to open and partake of. 

The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it. The men Pandora ( Ava Gardner ) had dated were willing to give up anything for her. Bullfighter Juan Montalvo ( Mario Cabre ) had scorned his mother - an almost unpardonable sin for a Spaniard - to have the opportunity to spill his blood for her in the bullring. Reggie Demarest ( Marius Goring ) had given his life. He committed suicide. "I felt relieved," Pandora calmly exclaims. Her current beau, racing champion Stephen Cameron ( Nigel Patrick ) is willing to push his car, his beloved hand-built racer, over a cliff to prove his love for her. And yet, Pandora still is not happy. 

"Why don't you come down to earth, Pandora? Happiness lies in the simple things," Stephen tells her. 
It is not until she meets Captain van der Zee aboard his yacht one evening that she feels differently. Perhaps it is the first time she truly feels love and not merely selfish pride over the men she conquested. Indeed, she does become a gentler woman after having met the Dutchman. 

"I've changed so since I've known you. I'm not cruel and hateful as I used to be, hurting people because I was so unhappy myself. I know now where destructiveness comes from. It's a lack of love. It's as simple as that."

But what happens when the object of your love is a ghost? A sailor from the 17th-century doomed to an eternal life.....until he can find a woman willing to die for him. When Henrick tells her that the time for him to leave is fast approaching, Pandora's measure of love is put to the test. Will she be willing to make the sacrifice of death for him?

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is an enticing blend of romance, mystery, fantasy, and tragedy. The story and script, written by the film's director Albert Lewin ( The Moon and Sixpence, The Picture of Dorian Grey ) draws the audience into the dramatic happenings of its characters, all of whom are well-fleshed. The story takes its inspiration primarily from Richard Wagner's 1843 opera "The Flying Dutchman" and the writings of Heinrich Heine, who created the concept of a man who is given a chance to return to earth once every seven years to search for a woman who can redeem him from his bondage of eternal life. 

"I would long for death, but death would deny me!"

James Mason gives a marvelous performance of this enigmatic gentleman and Ava Gardner is stunning, looking radiant in her first Technicolor film. Harold Warrender, who portrays the archeologist Geoffrey Fielding, acts as the narrator to the story and, with his inquisitive nature, becomes one of the few to uncover Hendrik's secret. Also in the cast is the lovely Sheila Sim, who plays a young woman in love with Stephen Cameron. 
Jack Cardiff, who had won an Academy Award in 1948 for his cinematographic work on The Red Shoes, beautifully filmed Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Cardiff used a limited range of colors, emphasizing navy blue filters for the night sequences and muted tones to cleverly make the bold colors, when they were used, literally pop out of the screen. The racing sequence is particularly well-filmed and edited. Most of the picture was shot on location in Catalonia, Spain, where today, a statue of Ava Gardner has been erected on the hill overlooking the beach. 

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman was a British film released through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who delayed the picture's release until after Show Boat was distributed in order to capitalize on the rising star power of Ava Gardner. It was a great success at the box-office and justly so - the film has a mysterious beauty that makes it timeless entertainment. Some legends never grow old.

This post is our contribution to The James Mason Blogathon being hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. If you like Mason - and who doesn't? - then check out the complete roster of reviews of James Mason's films by clicking here

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Here's a scene from a beautifully filmed classic. Who could the chap in the cart be and where is he going when he passes this young woman on the road? Hmmm.....

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Review - Joe De Yong: A Life in the West

In February 2018, author William Reynolds launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish his biography of Joe De Yong, a cowboy and protege of Western artist Charles M. Russell. It was successfully funded and the result was a beautiful hardbound, 320-page book measuring 9" x 11.5". 

Joe De Yong led a fascinating life and the reason I am reviewing his biography here is that much of that life was spent in Hollywood, where he worked in films as an artist and western regalia consultant. Yes, someone had to be consulted about what is and isn't proper cowboy garb. 

His love for the movies began when he was 14 years old and, working on a ranch, had a chance to meet the famous cowboy star Tom Mix. Joe caught the acting bug and wanted to enter the film business as a cowboy himself. Within five years he was making films with Mix, but while shooting a film on location in Arizona he was stricken with meningitis which left him permanently deaf. While recuperating from his illness, he saw an exhibition of paintings by Charles M. Russell and returned to another passion of his: art. 
Joe De Yong spent years with Russell in his studio, working beside him and learning his craft. It was when Russell died in 1926, that Joe returned to Hollywood to work as a designer for costume and gear and sometimes aid in scenic and storyboard art. This began a career that spanned nearly thirty years of his life. It was only for the Cecil B. DeMille films and Shane ( 1953 ) that he received screen credit, but De Yong had a hand in some top westerns of the time: The Plainsman ( 1937 ), Union Pacific ( 1939 ), Susannah of the Mounties ( 1939 ), Northwest Mounted Police ( 1940 ), Tall in the Saddle ( 1944 ), The Virginian ( 1946 ), Ramrod ( 1947 ), Red River ( 1948 ), The Big Sky ( 1952 ), Rio Bravo ( 1959 ), and his last film, El Dorado ( 1967 ). 

Yong's sketch of the Starrett homestead
William Reynolds wrote an excellent account of this cowboy, covering his personal life, his relation with Charles M. Russell, and his years in Hollywood in great detail. Joe De Yong, A Life in the West is packed with original stills and posters, behind-the-scenes photos, costume sketches, numerous correspondence and, of course, De Yong's etchings and paintings. It is just a fascinating book overall. 

Unfortunately, if you did not back the campaign, the book is only available used through Amazon and eBay, but if westerns are your passion, then try to add this title to your bookshelf.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Johnny Guitar ( 1954 )

Joan Crawford in a western? If that sounds incredulous, Ms.Crawford must have thought so, too, because it was not until 1954 that she starred in her first spurs-and-guns picture - Johnny Guitar. Unlike Barbara Stanwyck, Joan seemed out of place in the desert locale sporting jeans - but she gave it a good try. 
Crawford stars as Vienna, a saloon/casino owner who owns a good chunk of territory in a wind-swept Arizona cattle town and wants the railroad to put in a new stop in town thereby carrying tourists to her gambling lair. Emma Small ( Mercedes McCambridge ) has recently brewed a potful of poison in her heart against Vienna because Vienna stole her sweetheart, the Dancin' Kid ( Scott Brady ), away from her and now is dead set against her notions of securing a railroad stop. 

The Dancin' Kid isn't the noblest citizen in town. He and his cronies ( Ernest Borgnine, Ben Cooper, Royal Dano ) are constantly being blamed for robbing stage-coaches. In truth, they are mining ore from a hidden silver vein. But when the vein runs dry, the Dancin' Kid sees no harm in robbing the town bank - owned by none other than Emma Small. Emma is certain that Vienna is behind the robbery, so it is a good thing that Vienna hired her former lover, Johnny Guitar ( Sterling Haydn ), for protection. 

Johnny Guitar grossed more than $2.5 million when it opened in theatres in January 1955, in spite of primarily negative reviews from critics. It is an unusual western from director Nicholas Ray ( They Live by Night, Rebel Without a Cause ), playing out like a western-noir with a lot of tough-talking drama. The film is slow to start with way too much pretentious dialogue taking place within the confines of Vienna's saloon but, once the picture moves out-of-doors, the story begins to unfold and it is pure entertainment from there on. 

Mercedes McCambridge gives a powerful performance of an embittered woman who is sharpening her claws readying herself for the chance to accuse Vienna of "aiding and abetting" criminals, a hanging charge. In two fantastic showdowns, they butt heads in a war of glares, scathing remarks, and guns. 
McCambridge was not the first choice to play Emma Small. Crawford, who owned the film rights to the novel "Johnny Guitar" by Roy Chanslor, had wanted either Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck for the role but both actresses were too expensive. McCambridge adds such a bite to the character that neither Davis or Stanwyck could have given. 

Actually, the entire cast is glove-fit for their roles...with the exception of Joan Crawford. It is good to see Scott Brady in a semi-villainous role. Sterling Haydn gives his usual gruff performance as Johnny Guitar. The remainder of the cast is made up of familiar western character actors: Ward Bond has a great part as big man John McIvers, Frank Fergusen plays the town marshall, and John Carradine and Rhys Williams are friends of Vienna's.
Johnny Guitar was filmed in TruColor and the color cinematography is beautiful. Costume designer Sheila O'Brien made excellent use of her fashion color palette bedecking Crawford in bright solid colors that stand out among the muted old western town surroundings. In one scene, Vienna is dressed in a gown of white that seems to symbolize her virtuous innocence among the black-clothed posse that has come to hound her.

This particular scene emphasizes what many modern reviewers consider is what Johnny Guitar is really about - a visual commentary on the House of Un-American Activities communist scare which was taking place at that time. In Hollywood, so many actors - including Sterling Haydn - were pressured into naming fellow thespians whom they believed to be communists. Vienna has no personal grievance against the Dancin' Kid and his men but, when little Turkey, one of his gang, is captured in her house, it seems to prove her allegiance to him. The posse threatens Turkey to admit that Vienna is one of the group. Denial means death. A tough choice for the poor kid to make....as it was for those who testified against their friends during the communist trials. 
Peggy Lee gives a sultry performance of the title song near the end of the film, which, if you had felt like turning off your television mid-way through Johnny Guitar, would have made you regret it. It is one of the best western endings that I have seen in years.