Monday, April 24, 2017

From the Archives: Joan Fontaine in Suspicion ( 1941 )

Joan Fontaine posing for a quick costume shot during the making of Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. Joan always knew how to wear high collars and top-heavy hats like a queen. 

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review - Hollywood in Kodachrome

Over 35 years ago John Kobal assembled a number of excellent coffee table books featuring stunning photography from Hollywood's golden era. Among these books was "Hollywood Color Portraits", which presented a beautiful collection of Kodachromes of some of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1930s-1950s. Since the publication of this book there have been very few books offered to film fans that re-published the gorgeous color portrait photos of Hollywood's stars. 

That is, until 2013, when David Wills assembled "Hollywood in Kodachrome", a hefty collection of stunning color glamour photographs from 1940-1949, many of which were originally published on the covers of ( and as inserts in ) Motion Picture, Photoplay, Modern Screen, Movie Stars Parade, and Movie Story magazines. This five-pound 352-page hardcover book was beautifully printed by It Books, showcasing the images the way they were originally meant to be seen. 

Glamour icons such as Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Jane Russell, and Hedy Lamarr are all given ample coverage, but unfortunately many of the biggest actors of the time have few photographs. There were numerous color images made of Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and yet few appear in this collection. Robert Taylor, William Powell, Ronald Colman are not even present in the book...nor are actresses such as Alice Faye, Ann Sothern, or Vivien Leigh. 

While "Hollywood in Kodachrome" does not offer the best selection of box-office stars of the 1940s, David Wills does give readers a background history of these color photographs and intersperses the images with some black-and-white behind-the-scenes shots showing the photographer and his subject in action. Small images of the printed covers of the magazines the photos appeared on also compliment the text. 

Hollywood in Kodachrome by David Wills and Stephen Schmidt is available for purchased for $24.86 through Amazon.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Classic Bible and Religious Films

With Easter and Passover here I thought it would be nice to put together a list of some famous ( and rarer ) classic religious films. I have such fond memories of watching these movies, especially David and Bathsheba and Ben-Hur

When I was a youngster, my family would often go to Our Lady of Lourdes prior to Easter. This is a religious site located outside of Cleveland that houses a shrine, chapel and refractory as well as walking paths with stations of the cross along the way. There is a spring of water in a grotto that passes over a stone, and many make pilgrimages here to get this holy water, for this stone was where the Virgin Mary stood upon when she made her appearance to Bernadette in Lourdes, France. Many miracles have occurred here. It was then that I would watch these great films, many times during homeschool. Such happy memories! 

OLD TESTAMENT 

The Ten Commandments ( 1956 ) - I always look forward to ABC's yearly airing of this film. Knowing every line that the actors are going to say does not lessen the enjoyment of the movie. Charlton Heston is wonderful as Moses. He certainly made it difficult for future actors to portray this character with as much passion. And one of my favorite actresses, Martha Scott, plays his Hebrew mother. Three years later Charlton and her would team up again as mother and son in Ben-Hur. Cecil B. DeMille probably knew he had a great film in the making but I doubt he knew it would become this legendary ..... or maybe he did.

Samson and Delilah ( 1949 ) - It is a shame that Hedy Lamarr's acting ability was downplayed by critics, for this film ( as well as H.M Pulham Esq ) give evidence to how well she can indeed act. Victor Mature stars as the famous long-haired Samson, with other roles going to Angela Lansbury ( a different part for her ), George Sanders, and a young Russ Tamblyn. 
The Story of Ruth ( 1960 ) - How can they make a movie over two hours in length on one of the shortest books of the Bible? By elaborating on the story, of course....which they did very well here. Rather than have Naomi's husband and children killed from disease, the film has these characters die in the hands of Moabite soldiers who are against them for trying to preach their Judian God to their high priestess Ruth ( Elena Eden ), who worships a stone idol. I doubt this was taken from historical records, but the film was enjoyable nonetheless and it visually conveyed the theme of kinsmanship so predominant in that book. 

David and Bathsheba ( 1951 ) - A wonderful screen telling of one of the most famous Biblical figures, King David. The film has a focus on his adulteress relationship with the beautiful Bathsheba ( alas, adultery is great for the box-office ), but it covers his childhood in flashback as well. Gregory Peck is always good to see, and Susan Hayward reached her beauteous peak at this time. James Robertson Justice plays his right-hand man Abishai, and Jayne Meadows plays David's wife, Michal.

Solomon and Sheba ( 1959 ) - Yul Brynner stars as David's son, the mighty Solomon who becomes king in place of his brother, the hot-headed Adonijah ( George Sanders ). Gina Lollobrigida plays a voluptuous the Queen of Sheba. Not only is the film about a king, but it was filmed by one too...King Vidor.
Esther and the King ( 1960 ) - If you can imagine Joan Collins playing Esther, then you'll like this movie...otherwise it's a far stretch from the beautiful Bible story. Richard Egan costars as the King who chooses her among all the others in his harem to be his wife. 

Other Old testament films: A Story of David ( 1961 ) starring Jeff Chandler, and The Story of Joseph and his Brethren ( 1961 ).

NEW TESTAMENT 

The Prodigal ( 1955 )- Based on the parable of the prodigal son, this film stars Lana Turner, Louis Calhern, and Edmund Purdom as the titular wayward one. Edmund Purdom played in several biblical films as well as in The Egyptian which told the story of an architect of Pharaoh's tomb. In 1997 he hosted a religious documentary called The Seven Signs of Christ's Return. The Prodigal was engrossing, but Lana Turner was miscast as she fits better in more contemporary settings. 

Barabbas ( 1962 ) - There's something about this movie I really liked, but I'm not entirely sure what it is. Anthony Quinn plays the pardoned criminal Barabbas whom the crowds chose over Jesus Christ. The film fantasizes on his conversion to Christianity and his turn as a gladiator. Very entertaining. 

The Big Fisherman ( 1959 ) - This was an independent production starring Howard Keel as the disciple Simon Peter, also with Susan Kohner, Martha Hyer and Herbert Lom. Oddly enough, the movie was distributed through Disney's own Buena Vista company, but it certainly did not have a Disney flair to it. In spite of its wonderful cast, the film fails to make an impression. 

The King of Kings ( 1961 ) - Jeffrey Hunter stars in this film retelling of the life of Christ. Hunter always gives his all in any performance and this one is no exception. Unfortunately, it's so true-to-life that the brutality of the events are difficult to watch. Filmed in Super-Technirama and costarring Robert Ryan, Siobhan McKenna and Hurd Hatfield. 

Some other major productions : 

Ben-Hur ( 1959 ) - The life of one Judah Ben-Hur, a prince in Jerusalum, who gets sent to work as a galley slave aboard a Roman flagship, and his conversion to Christianity. The most famous scene is undoubtedly the chariot race between Judah and Messala, but my favorite part is at the end, where Judah's mother and sister come forth from the leprosy cave and are cured by the rain. The music is particularly poignant at this scene. This movie deserved all the Oscars it got, it is such a masterpiece. 
The Robe ( 1953 ) - A cinema classic about one of Christ's executioners who later repents and dies for being a Christian. The very first film made in Cinemascope, the movie has a beautiful score by Alfred Newman, gorgeous Technicolor, excellent actors, and is based on the famous Lloyd C. Douglas bestseller. Can't get much better than that! 

Demetrius and the Gladiators ( 1954 ) - This sequel to The Robe has the former slave Demetrius spiraling into a web of sin after he believes God permitted his lover ( Debra Paget ) to die needlessly. Victor Mature reprises his former role, Susan Hayward plays a woman who has her eye on Demetrius, and Richard Egan costars. 

Quo Vadis ( 1951 ) - A splendid epic about a Roman soldier who dies along with the Christian girl he loves. Peter Ustinov gives a wonderful performance as the mad Nero, thoroughly enjoying the feast for the lions. The movie is very similar to The Sign of the Cross but this was much more entertaining. 

IT'S A MIRACLE! 

The Song of Bernadette ( 1943 ) - The story of the French girl ( Jennifer Jones ) who saw the apparition of " a beautiful lady" the Virgin Mary in a city dump in 1858. Charles Bickford costars. 

Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima ( 1952 ) - This film tells the true story of three Portuguese children who saw the Virgin Mary in a field. The acting is simple but all concerned paint a compelling picture. 

The Miracle ( 1959 ) - Carroll Baker plays a nun who breaks her vows to follow a soldier, none other than Roger Moore ( at least she had the decency to pick a Saint ). 

Francis of Assisi ( 1961 ) - A lovely film depicting the life of the famous saint who renounced the world to begin a life of austerity. Dolores Hart co-stars. Hart would later renounce the glamour of Hollywood to become a nun herself. 

PREACHERS AND TEACHERS 

A Man Called Peter ( 1955 ) - The life of Washington D.C's chaplain Peter Marshall as portrayed by Richard Todd. A beautiful Alfred Newman score highlights this film. 

I'd Climb the Highest Mountain ( 1951 ) - The trails and tribulations of a Methodist minister ( William Lundigan ) and his wife ( Susan Hayward ). It's very similar to One Foot in Heaven ( 1941 ) starring Fredric March. 

One Man's Way
( 1964 ) - The story of a crime reporter who becomes a priest. Sound familiar? It's the life of Norman Vincent Peale ( played by Don Murray ) 

Martin Luther ( 1953 ) - The life of Martin Luther, the first Protestant. This film was actually made by Lutheran Church Productions...a rare one, indeed. 

AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS 

Come to the Stable ( 1949 ) - A touching and equally amusing tale of two French nuns ( Loretta Young and Celeste Holm ) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and their quest to raise funds to build a hospital. Fine performances from a great cast make this a memorable classic. 

Black Narcissus ( 1947 ) - Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's masterpiece about nuns in a remote Tibetan convent has Kathleen Byron struggling with sexual passion, Deborah Kerr facing morale difficulties, and Jean Simmons playing a young native girl. 

A Nun's Story ( 1959 )- Audrey Hepburn plays a newly entered nun, who gets sent to the Congo, where she begins to realize this probably wasn't her calling. African heat has the most unexpected effects on a person. 

Heaven Knows Mr. Allison ( 1957 ) - Deborah Kerr once again dons the habit, this time as a nun stranded on a secluded Pacific Island with Robert Mitchum during WWII. 

Conspiracy of Hearts ( 1960 ) - A sweet, but nail-biting, film about a group of nuns who risk their life to rescue Jewish children from Nazi soldiers. Lilli Palmer gives a wonderful performance, as does the rest of the cast. 

The Trouble with Angels ( 1966 )- Hayley Mills and June Harding play two girls making trouble at a private Catholic school. Fun and touching at the same time...and, believe it or not, Rosalind Russell does a very convincing portrayal of a Mother Superior.

MISSIONARYS IMPOSSIBLE 

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
( 1958 ) - The biography of Gladys Aylward , a missionary in China, portrayed by Ingrid Bergman. It is a long film but entertaining nonetheless. This also marked the last performance of the great English actor Robert Donat. 
Hawaii ( 1966 ) - A ( rather boring ) epic about a missionary in Hawaii during the early 1800s. Max Von Sydow and Julie Andrews star. 

Keys of the Kingdom ( 1944 ) - A young Gregory Peck stars in this film about a Scottish priest in China and the dilemmas he faces. The large supporting cast and great cinematography support this classic.

A Few extra titles to explore... The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Bible, Going My Way, The Bells of St.Marys, God is my Co-Pilot, Miracle of the Bells, and The Left Hand of God

Do you have any particular Easter favorites? Share them with us!

Have a blessed Easter!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


All aboard! Is it the Hogwarts Express pulling out of the station? No, not quite. Time seems to stand still at this train station and the passengers have no complaints about waiting for the train to depart. 

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Binnie Barnes Shares Stories of Her Past

Into a cold, gray London factory, on a foggy morning, tramped a cheerless girl in a shabby hat and a rag of a dress. Under her arm she carried a lunch box, nothing more than an old pasteboard shoe box which was turned to everyday use. Going to her place at a grimy iron stamping machine, she opened the box and took from it a small picture cut from a magazine. This she fixed to her incongruous treadmill where she could see it for the long day ahead. "My eye!" remarked the girl next to her. "Don't tell me it's the Princess of Wyles?" 

"No, it's Lillian Russell. She was called The American Beauty, and I'd rather be like her than any other woman in the world." 

Into a warm, bright Hollywood room on a sunny morning breezed a joyous creature trim and smart in sky-blue pajamas. A soft hat rakishly perched upon her gold-shot hair set off her refreshing charm. She held out a friendly hand in greeting. Then she drew forth a platinum-framed photograph which she placed admiringly upon the table. "I simply can't quite make myself believe I've somehow lived to be her in the film 'Diamond Jim,' " marveled the one-time London factory girl, Binnie Barnes.

"Has it been so great a change?" 

"Look at me !" she challenged — and that wasn't hard. "Nothing could possibly be greater than changing from what I was to Lillian Russell." 

Binnie Barnes certainly had a colorful background and I couldn't help wondering why an English actress had been chosen to play an American beauty. 

"You can't be more surprised than I was," she said. "It knocked me right off my pins. You see, they cabled me to come over and play Miss Russell's chum, Edna McCauley, the fashionable dressmaker. But when I got here, they were in a jam and they grabbed me to get them out of it. They'd tested about a thousand girls for the Lillian Russell part, but although they got beauty galore, they couldn't get just what they were after. They wanted someone sympathetic." 

Binnie and Cesar Romero in "Diamond Jim" ( 1935 )

"Miss Russell was." I recalled. 

"Then you knew her!" exclaimed Binnie, wide-eyed. Explaining that I'd known Miss Russell in her Casino and Weber and Fields days, I assumed that the slender Binnie embodied the "Beauteous One" of an earlier date. 

"Yes," she replied, "when Miss Russell was at Tony Pastor's and just entering her Broadway career. She was twenty-eight." 

"And you're?" (Courage, man!) 

"Twenty-six." 

Singing with the angels, Lillian Russell, who had a way of keeping her youth out of Father Time's hands, must have raised a note of thanks. "One thing that encouraged me was a yellowed program of the bill at Tony Pastor's announcing, 'Lillian Russell in English Ballads.' As I'd sung them I felt we had something in common. And when it came to playing her I wasn't afraid of my English accent. It isn't very noticeable, is it? You know, I've been taken for an American girl ever since I went on the stage. In fact, I was billed as 'Texas Binnie Barnes' in the first thing I did, a rope-twirling act with Tex McLeod in South Africa. Nobody knew I was English, and the funny part of it was, that I myself didn't know I had a Southern accent. I'd picked it up from Tex, and thought that all Americans talked as he did. When I went back to London I couldn't get a job as an English girl. I played gangster molls in 'Innocents of Chicago' and other sweet, tender little things in which you couldn't call your life your own. And was I tough!" 

"You don't look it." 

"Thank you kindly, sir," she laughed. "But those were my bad days. I once tried an Irish accent in 'The Silver Tassie' with Charles Laughton on the London stage. It seemed odd to be with him again in 'Henry the Eighth' on the screen. But I started my movie work with Ida Lupino's father, Stanley, in short comedies. He threw pies, and had to have a girl who could take 'em. The first one that came along knocked me flat on my fanny. Far from a beauty," she pensively added, "I was called 'Pie-Face'." 

Charles Laughton and Binnie in "The Private Life of Henry VIII" ( 1933 )

"You seem to have had a varied career," I sympathetically remarked. 


"A bit of this, that and the other," she lightly replied. "I was in slapstick for years. I didn't mind, just taking my luck as it came. I'd probably never got on the stage at all if Tex McLeod hadn't happened to come into a London dance hall where I was working. It's all been surprising. But it amazed me to be given the part of Lillian Russell, for London producers had always associated me with tough parts. And I certainly never was known as a beauty. In England we have no great beauties. Of course, there was Lily Langtry in her time, but even she couldn't hold a candle to Lillian Russell. Today we have personalities, to my mind, far more important than beauty, especially on the screen." 

"Whom do you consider the most beautiful screen actress?" 

"A fine lot of trouble I'd be piling up for myself answering that!" 

"Nonsense, go ahead." 

"W-well," she hesitated, "I will say that Claudette Colbert is charming. But beauty's no good if you've no personality. English girls are much quieter than American girls, who have more push and are more sexy, but do not have more charm. But an English girl can be very dull. She is kept down by chaperons and God knows what! Life is more of a routine in England. Just as in all old countries, it goes on and on without change ; customs and habits remaining the same. Here, there is more freedom. This makes it easier for an American girl to marry. She learns an awful lot. Then there's the climate, with more opportunity for sports, which develop the body and must do the mind some good. Everything here is action. Before an Englishman does anything he thinks twice — particularly about marrying. So what can the poor girl do?" 

"But you managed it?" 

"Once — and never again. Now that I've got a husband I'm going to hang on to him. That's my main job, and I'm going back to it after making one more picture here. But I'll return to America. I never want to stay in any one place a long while. After a bit I like to pop off somewhere else. I've had a lot of experiences in different parts of the world, and they've all been swell, even when I've been out of dough. I grumble once in a while, but I'm never discontented. My one idea, ever since I was a kid, has been to keep working." 

"You mentioned driving a milk cart." 

"We had no money, so I had to do some- thing. Dad was a London policeman, and when he died he left mother and me on a tiny farm. So we went into the milk business. The hardest part of it was getting up at four in the morning. That's not gay, even for a fourteen-year-old girl. But I loved driving the horse. Snowy we called him. He got so he knew every house on the route and would stop without my saying a word or pulling a line. And that, mind you, meant sixty houses. Then there was a little coffee shop where I'd get a cup for myself and lumps of sugar for Snowy. That turned out to be our hard luck place. I was coming out of it one morning when Snowy, scared by a passing tram, started to run away. I just managed to swing myself up on the wagon, but I couldn't stop him. He tore along till he got jammed in between two trams and was so badly hurt he had to be shot." 

"Were you hurt, too?" 

For answer she pulled off her hat. Her forehead showed a white scar. 

Leslie Howard and Barnes in "The Lady is Willing' ( 1934 )

"That runaway put us out of the milk business. But as soon as I was able 'to be about again I got a job in a factory, where I tested electric light bulbs and became a first-class solderer — sealed the tin casings, you know". Next I worked in a paper bag factory. Then I pressed veins on artificial leaves — sounds silly, doesn't it? From there I went to a tobacconist's. I never did office work; for one thing, I wasn't intelligent enough." 

No? With all due respect, you can't believe her. 

"When I left a place I always got a better one," was her most intelligent reply. "I liked 'em all while I stayed. "Work was good for me," she insisted. "If I'd been brought up in cottonwool, I'd never have done anything. And it was fun having a go at one thing and another. I got to know all kinds of people. Lord, the different ones that poked their heads out of doors when I was delivering milk! That was the time, early in the morning, to see them as they really were without any frills. The things they wore and the things they said! I'll never forget one old crone who wore diamond earrings — probably slept in 'em — and a second-hand lady with the airs of a duchess. Oh, well, I dare say I thought myself pretty grand when I got that job in a dance hall! I'd wait for a customer to do a twirl with me, then slither out on the floor like Lady Vere de Vere herself." 

"After all your other jobs, what do you think of movie work?" 

"This," said the practical Binnie, "is a sissy job." 

- Written by Charles Darnton 

This article ( edited in certain places ) originally appeared in the December 1935 issue of Modern Screen magazine. 

Movie Magazine Articles, another one of our ongoing series, feature articles like this reprinted for our reader's entertainment. Links to the original sources are available within the body of the text. In the future, simply search "Movie Magazine Articles" to find more posts in this series or click on the tag below. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From the Archives : Enter Arsene Lupin ( 1944 )

Charles Kovin and Ella Raines are receiving some dialogue direction from script girl Mildred Vallee. Korvin was making his film debut as the famous French thief in Universal Pictures' Enter Arsene Lupin ( 1944 ). 

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Trouble with Angels ( 1966 )

"I just thought of a scathingly brilliant idea!"

Mary ( Hayley Mills ) is chock-full of scathingly brilliant ideas, most of them taking the form of pranks to play on the nuns at St. Francis Academy, the convent school for girls that she and her partner-in-crime Rachel ( played by newcomer June Harding ) attend. These teenage girls are naturally bent towards mischief, and trying the patience of Mother Superior ( Rosalind Russell ) is their sole source of amusement. But just when there seems to be no hope for these incorrigible students, Mary has a change of heart and finds that life at St. Francis can be quite habit-forming. 

Ida Lupino stepped behind the camera, after a 13-year hiatus, to direct The Trouble with Angels, a humorous and endearing family film based upon "Life with Mother Superior", Jane Trahey's highly amusing autobiographical account of her years spent in a convent school. 

Producer William Frye had attempted to coax Greta Garbo out of retirement with a $1,000,000 offer to portray Mother Superior in the film, but, having failed, secured the talents of another MGM alumni, the great Roz Russell. This old pro was an ideal choice for the part, not only because she was a devout Catholic in real life, but because Russell could bring out the commanding ( almost frightening ) presence that the role of Mother Superior required, and yet make her as beloved as any of the other characters. She holds you in her thrall, whether she is barking orders like a drill sergeant, reacting to soap bubbles coming out of her tea, or purring like a kitten over the "blessedly quiet" new furnace. Russell is also given an ample amount of barbed quips to fling at the girls, which only she could do so well.
"I'm convinced that it would be a cruel and un-Christian act to let you two loose on an unsuspecting world. The world is not yet ready for you!" 

Both Mary and Rachel's antics are innocent bits of defiance, meant to while away the long - and boring - days at St. Francis, and they range from smoking cigars in the school's basement, to encasing another student's face with Plaster of Paris. Rachel is a "born follower", gawky, and not particularly clever having been educated at the progressive school of New Trends ( where she was instructed in valuable subjects like "silent piano" lessons ). She meets Mary on the bus en route to the school and quickly becomes her stooge, sharing in the pranks which continually put her in hot-soup with Mother Superior, and usually result in the punishment of washing school pots. "I wonder if my father knows he's paying good money to have his daughter educated as a janitor", she muses. June Harding was making her film debut after doing several television episodes ( notably The Richard Boone Show ) and she is adorable as Rachel.

Hayley Mills is simply marvelous as Mary Clancy. She had enjoyed a long career with Walt Disney as a child actress and The Trouble with Angels served as an excellent transitional film, introducing her fans to the fact that Mills was no longer a child and was gradually becoming a young woman. She brings an authentic rebelliousness to the part of Mary, allowing other teenage girls to sympathize with her resentment of the school and religion. And yet, she gives heart to this delinquent. Mary is an orphan, sent to St. Francis by her Uncle George ( Kent Smith ), a wealthy man who wants her out of the way so he can enjoy the "companionship" of his secretaries. She has a mature outlook on life and sees the cynical side to everything. 

As much as Mary resents Mother Superior, she is fascinated by her and often watches her, wondering what made her - or any of the nuns, for that matter - decide to take the veil. She finds that behind Mother Superior's cold demeanor is much inner pain. Little does she realize how much she has in common with her. 

Blanche Hanalis' extremely quotable script puts equal emphasis on the plights of both the girls and the nuns. The audience never takes sides. We aren't rooting for Mary to knock-out Mother Superior and win the bout, neither do we wish to see Mother Superior "convert" these little devils into angels. As stern as Mother Superior is, she genuinely cares for the girls in her charge and desires to prepare them to make their own way in the real world. 

"To bend but not to break...to yield but not capitulate...to have pride but also humility. This has always been my struggle, Sister. Can I be less tolerant of Mary than the church has been of me?"

Each year at St. Francis, Mary finds her pre-conceived notions of religion shattering as Mother Superior, quite unknowingly, bends her gently towards God. Both Mills performance and Lupino's skillful direction made this a gradual evolution of character, brought out through subtle scenes in key moments, notably the death of Sister Luguiri ( Marge Redmond ), Sister Constance's ( Camilla Sparv ) decision to leave the convent, and Mary's visit to the nursing home, where she witnesses the failings of human love.
Rounding out the cast are some notable character actresses such as Gypsy Rose Lee ( as a visiting dance instructor ), Mary Wickes, Binnie Barnes, Judith Lowry, and Marjorie Eaton as the Sisters. Jim Hutton also makes an uncredited appearance as Mr. Petrie, headmaster of New Trends. 

The Trouble with Angels was so popular upon its release that it spawned the sequel Where Angels Go Trouble Follows ( 1968 ), but, without Ida Lupino's compassionate eye guiding the film, it failed to create characters of depth or leave a memorable impression....making audiences realize just how scathingly brilliant this original film was. 

This post is our contribution to The Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon being hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to check out all of the great posts about female-directed films! Also, any fan of Angels would want to read June Harding's letters home to her mother during the making of the film. They are great fun to read and provide insight into the development of the motion picture. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Maedchen in Uniform ( 1931 )

"What you call evil, I call the great Spirit of Love, which has a thousand forms..."

Manuela ( Hertha Thiele ), a sensitive 14-year old child, is sent by her aunt to a strict boarding school for officer's daughters operated by headmistress Frau Oberin ( Emila Unda ), a stern Prussian who believes that discipline and hunger strengthens girls....girls who will one day become the mothers of soldiers. Fraulein von Bernburg ( Dorothea Wieck ), a young teacher at the school, differs. She believes it is important to befriend the children and gain their trust. Like the rest of her students, Manuela is drawn to the sympathetic von Bernburg and grows to love her. However, when the headmistress learns of Manuela's affection for this teacher, she determines to expel her, because displays of emotion, especially love, within the school is strictly verbotten.

Maedchen in Uniform, a German production from Deutsche Film-Gemeinschaft, is a deceptively simple and yet profoundly psychological film, demonstrating the intense love a young girl could have for her teacher, especially when that girl is a mother-less child. It cuts deep and offers some rich food for thought, leaving you with a compelling desire to revisit it - and analyze it closer.

Director Carl Froelich, who had seen the play it was based upon ( "Gestern und Heute" by Christina Winsloe ) during its Berlin run, was touched by the story and wanted to bring it to film. Realizing it needed a woman's intuition to successfully translate it to this medium, he asked the play's director, Leontine Sagan, if she would be willing to direct it under his supervision. Sagan initially had her doubts, but Froelich encouraged her, knowing that her experience as a stage director would bring a fresh style to the picture...which she certainly did accomplish.

Even though all of the scenes are framed very simply, Sagan staged each of them for maximum effect, using every opportunity to make them anything but stage bound. Dialogue is often spoken off-camera, over-the-shoulder shots are well utilized, and, in two key scenes, montages give us an insight into Fraulein von Bernburg's thoughts. 

It is not a perfect film, however, there are frayed edges and the cuts between shots are especially apparent, but it is through this rudimentary filming, and Sagan's staging, that Maedchen in Uniform makes its impact, primarily by riveting your attention on the actions and reactions of the characters. 
Von Bernburg is a particularly complex character and Dorothea Wieck gives an excellent portrayal of this aloof, stern, but strangely admirable teacher, shielding her character's inner emotions behind an impenetrable mask. It is clear why the students adore her so much. She cares about them in a way that none of the other teachers do. She champions love and justice in a prison environment guided by unmerciful authoritarian regulations that attempt to stifle individualism and natural affection. 

But von Bernburg is also a paradox. "You never know how to take her. She will be stern one moment and then so sweet the next. It's very strange...." shrewdly observes Ilsa, the student's playful ringleader. The very love and affection she desires to give to her students she suppresses out of respect for the school's regulations and her ingrained sense of equity. Manuela desires to draw nearer to von Bernburg but she is "always so distant". Even in private she will not return Manuela's affection. Favoritism will, and must, not be considered. 

"Pull yourself together, child! You know that I cannot make exceptions, otherwise the other children will be jealous."

Instead, she acknowledges their individuality ( Fraulein von Bernburg alone addresses the girls by their Christian names ) and strews hints of tenderness to them when she knows she will not be observed by her superior. One such act is bidding good night to the students in her dormitory with a kiss on their forehead. All of the students are starving for affection, which is evident in their eager anticipation of this nightly routine. It is when Manuela witnesses her teacher's empathy during that first night that she comes to love her. 

Budding passions are bound to erupt within the confines of the boarding school, and those who do not focus their infatuation on von Bernburg instead develop crushes among each other....but Manuela's love is different. Hers is not merely a passing infatuation for the young mistress. She wants the nurturing love of the mother who was torn from her and attention from someone who cares about her. Fraulein von Bernburg recognizes this, and she worries about Manuela. Unlike the other children who admire her, Manuela truly needs her. 
The photogenic Hertha Thiele, in her film debut, gives a compassionate performance of this deprived girl. While Maneula is among her fellow students she has a proud and independent spirit, befitting the daughter of an officer, but in her encounters with Fraulein von Bernburg she suddenly becomes child-like, shy, and emotional. This vulnerability that she brings to the character makes the audience understand the deep despair ( and suicidal inclination ) she later feels when the headmistress demands isolation as her punishment. By the film's gripping finale, we are as much concerned about Manuela's well-being as the other girls are, all of whom rally to her defense to save her from death. 

"Affection has no place here, it only arouses their emotions." - Frau Oberin

Maedchen in Uniform was made in the years just prior to the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. Because it was filmed during this tumultuous period, there is a strong anti-Fascist message throughout the picture... in fact, it forms the core of the film. The boarding school is not a place for the girls to learn and grow as individuals, but a place for them to dispel their emotionalism, freedom of thought, and rebellious inclinations. Germany demands tough women who will obey without question the demands society may make on them. This idea is reinforced throughout the film by frequent cuts to imposing statues of military leaders. Order and rule are Wichtigste! But there are severe dangers in a society that is dispassionate and without tolerance, as Frau Oberin comes to realize. 

Just two years later, when the Nazis came to power, Maedchen in Uniform would not have been permitted to be made. Many of the actresses in it were Jewish, and, those that did not flee Germany when they had the opportunity, died in concentration camps. "You were only first aware that they were Jewish when fascism was there and you lost your friends," said Thiele in a 1976 interview. The Nazis considered the film to be decadent and attempted to burn all copies of it, but due to its world-wide distribution it has become a surviving document to the anti-fascist sentiments of late Weimar-Germany.

The film was a great success throughout Europe upon its release and catapulted both Wieck and Thiele to international stardom. In America, the New York State Board of Censors initially wanted to ban it for its Sapphic implications, but First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had seen a screening of it overseas, spoke up for its artistic merit, and they reconsidered their refusal to grant the film a license. 
Mordant Hall, a critic for The New York Times, praised Maedchen in Uniform as "a beautiful, tender, and really artistic cinematic work". It was truly groundbreaking at the time for featuring an all-female cast and a woman director at the helm ( Leontine Sagan earned a Venice Film Festival award for her effort ), and today, it remains a landmark in German cinema. 

What makes Maedchen in Uniform so compelling is the ambiguity of its overall theme. It suggests much but reveals very little. One thing is clear, it is a deeply humanist film with a simple story that was vividly brought to life through its exemplary filming and the outstanding performances of the entire cast, each of whom were so well suited to their roles, down to the most insignificant of characters. Emila Unda is marvelous as the drachen-like headmistress Frau Oberin, and Ellen von Schwanneke is adorable as the rambunctious Ilsa. Interestingly, all of the "girls" were portrayed by women in their mid-20s. 
In 1958, Maedchen in Uniform was remade in Germany with Lilli Palmer as Fraulein von Bernburg and Romy Schneider as Manuela, but both actresses failed to conceal their characters' sentiments, a key element that made the original so interesting. Wieck and Thiele never clearly revealed the thoughts and feelings of their characters. Palmer, being much older than Wieck when she took on the role, brought a more maternal nature to the character, wearing her emotions on her sleeve; while Schneider displayed none of Manuela's forlorn helplessness, thereby removing the pity the audience feels for the character.  

Given the serious nature of its plot, the original Maedchen in Uniform could have easily become dark and somber, but instead the film has a cheerful tone in spite of its rigid setting. Cinematographer Franz Weihmayr made the most of pleasing highlights and subtle shadows, and Sagan emphasized the comradery and playful spirit of the girls through little scenes that show common girl-school behavior. The students are often breaking the school rules....eating chocolate, passing letters, talking while dressing ( this is one of the pre-code moments that a few old men may find mildly erotic ). Director Ida Lupino would later use a similar technique to give heart to The Trouble with Angels ( 1966 ), also set in a private girls school.

Maedchen in Uniform is currently not available on DVD in the United States but you can view it on Youtube here ( subtitles can be seen by clicking "CC" ). It has the most accurate translation of any version I've seen.  

This post is our contribution to The Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon being hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to check out the other great reviews of 20th century films directed by women. To read a comparison between this film and the 1951 French film Olivia, which was based upon Maedchen in Uniform, click here

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dead Man's Treasure - The Avengers ( 1967 )

The Avengers has long been one of my favorite television series, so, when A Shroud of Thoughts announced the 3nd annual Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon, I naturally chose to write about a classic from the 1965-1967 "Emma Peel Era" of The Avengers - "Dead Man's Treasure". 
This episode features Ministry agents John Steed ( Patrick MacNee ) and Mrs. Emma Peel ( Diana Rigg ) embarking on a motor rally in order to retrieve a top-top secret paper from you-know-where that a courier hid in a treasure chest, which happens to be the prize for winning the rally. However, this top-hush document is not so secret after all, and information of its whereabouts has leaked out....not only to the enemy agents who murdered the courier, but to a third agent as well. Hence, Steed and Mrs. Peel must not only match driving skills with their competitors, but also contend with a deadly killer on the rally. 
"Steed Rallies Around,
Emma Drives for Herself "
Treasure rallies have been around since the late 1940s, but few movies or television shows feature this fun sport ( with the exception of Walt Disney's Diamond on Wheels ), so "Dead Man's Treasure" is an especial treat to a rally enthusiast like myself. Unlike regular rallies that have teams ( made up of a driver and navigator ) who try to reach certain checkpoints within a precise time slot, treasure rallies instead have these drivers put their puzzle-solving skills to use and solve riddles to find the location of their next checkpoint. The first team to solve their way to discovering the final destination is the winner. If you ever participated in a treasure rally you would know that it is a thrilling jaunt that takes you to locations you never knew existed in your hometown. 

In Steed and Emma's case, the clues take them to some familiar and typically quaint English locations that were used in other Avengers episodes, such as the village of Aldbury ( a.k.a. Little Storping in the Swuff from "Murdersville" ) and Benstead's house ( Shenley Hall in Hertfordshire ) which also was Jordan's house in "The Bird Who Knew Too Much"
 "Swingingdale.....get a move on!"

All of The Avengers episodes have such intriguing beginnings but "Dead Man's Treasure" ranks among the best with the courier, having just been shot, racing towards Steed's flat to stagger in and utter the words "red....treasure chest" just before expiring. The series had a no-blood rule ( something that should be implemented in many of today's television shows ), but for this episode they broke the rule for drama's sake. Steed and Emma manage to deduce that the "red treasure chest" the courier had mentioned must in some way be connected to the invitation to the rally, and so they attend it. Once at the rally they do not expect to have new partners assigned to them. Poor Steed is stuck with Miss Penny ( Valerie Van Ost ) who enjoys rattling on about her numerous ex-husbands, while Emma is partnered with Mike ( Norman Bowler ) an affable young man at first, who later takes dangerous measures to ensure he wins the prize. Neil McCarthy and Edwin Richfield also star as two particularly amusing villains who are bent on sabotaging their competition. 
It is the location settings in this episode, the spunky Mancini-esque background music, and the light-hearted way that Emma and Steed handle the race that makes this such a fun way to spend an hour, but "Dead Man's Treasure" also features some witty lines that are up to the usual Avengers-class standard. For example, when a heavy parcel arrives for Steed in the mail, Emma inquires "Lead weights for your diving boots?", to which Steed replies, "Rock cakes from my Auntie Penelope". Steed takes a glance at Miss Penny's legs while racing towards a checkpoint and, distracted, he unintentionally makes a sudden turn, quickly saying "Short skirt.....er, short cut!". High octane stuff!
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If you have not yet discovered the wit and tongue-in-cheek hijinks of The Avengers, be sure to give the series a try. To learn more about The Avengers and check out reviews of episodes like "Dead Man's Treasure", click here. Also, stop by A Shroud of Thoughts to read other blogger's reviews of their favorite television episodes. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Halfway House ( 1944 )

Ealing Studios, one of England's major film companies, made some exceptionally entertaining films during the 1940s-1960s such as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Blue Lamp, Mandy, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and Scott of the Antarctic. Early in their history they released a charming drama that came to represent the studio's signature style: genteel comedies focusing on the Everyman. 

This film was called The Halfway House ( 1944 ), and it tells the story of ten travelers from across Britain, each with a personal problem, who find themselves staying the night at a secluded Welsh country inn. After a few hours at the inn, the travelers begin to wonder why all the newspapers are dated from the previous year...and why the innkeeper's ( Mervyn Johns ) daughter Gwyneth ( Glynis Johns ) casts no shadow when she walks. 

"Time stands still here in the valley..."
Each of these travelers came to the inn by chance, and leave the inn with their problems resolved. One couple ( Francoise Rosay and Tom Walls )who lost their son during the war, struggle to come to terms with his death.  Another couple ( Pat McGrath and Philippa Hiatt ) plan to get married but must first face conflicting viewpoints about the war. A concert conductor ( Esmond Knight ) finds the strength and positive outlook needed to enjoy the last days of his life. A young girl ( Sally Anne Howes ) attempts to reunite her parents who are on the verge of divorcing ( Richard Bird and Valerie White ); and a couple of black marketers ( Guy Middleton and Alfred Drayton ) are made to feel remorse for their criminal actions. 

Like most British films, The Halfway House wastes no time in drawing you into the story and its characters from the onset. Esmond Knight, Tom Walls, Mervyn Johns - and his daughter Glynis - all give particularly compelling performances. Another star of the film, the inn itself, was perfectly cast. This lovely country oasis, supposedly located in "Cymbach" Wales, was in reality situated in the small English village of Portlock Hill, where most of the film's location scenes were shot. 
"A pause in time, a pause to stand still and look at yourself and your difficulties...a few hours to change your minds"

The Halfway House is not a serious drama and deftly mixes in comedy with the profiles of these characters from different walks of life with their different stories to tell. It is a cheerful film in spite of its somber theme and leaves you with a pleasant feeling, as though you just spent a comfortable night at an old inn yourself and listened to a thrilling ghost story. 

The only downside to The Halfway House is its ending. The message throughout the film is obvious even though it is conveyed subtly through the dialogue, but at the conclusion the innkeeper delivers a speech - presumably for the benefit of the guests - that attempts to "explain" their presence at the inn, and instead, relegates to dramatic propaganda. Nevertheless, The Halfway House is a prime example of Ealing Studios top-notch output from the 1940s and gives pleasure through innumerable viewings. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Twenty singing school girls all in a row, featured in a scene from a film you all know. Tell us the title of this film and you'll win a prize! Simply, isn't it? Or perhaps not.......

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

GAME OVER

Congratulations to The Tactful Typist for correctly identifying this scene from Portrait of Jennie ( 1948 )! This girls choir was performing when Eben Adams ( Joseph Cotten ) went to visit Jennie ( Jennifer Jones ) at her convent school to witness some of her friends who were taking the veil.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop - Book Review

In November 2016, Regan Arts released "The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop" by Richard M. Isackes and Karen L. Maness. This beautiful 11 x 14" hardcover coffee table book is fully illustrated with behind-the-scenes photographs of the impressive set backdrops that were created for the major Hollywood studios throughout the 1930s-1980s. 

Artists like George Gibson, Ben Carre, the Strang family, and J.C Backings finally receive their due recognition for the work they did on films such as The Wizard of Oz ( 1939 ), The Treasure of Sierra Madre ( 1948 ), Little Women ( 1949 ), Forbidden Planet ( 1956 ), The Sound of Music ( 1965 ), and Hello, Dolly ( 1969 ). 

A truly great scenic backdrop artist expects to have his work go unnoticed....for if his backdrop was recognized as being a backdrop than he would have failed in his task of creating a proper illusion. Many of the artists featured in this book created such wonderful backdrops that even while staring at the set photographs included you'll be wondering just what is painted and what is real. Take, for example, this image from MGM's Girl of the Golden West ( featured on pg.166 ), none of the buildings in this scene are real - all were painted by Ben Carre. Stunning. 

Girl of the Golden West ( 1938 ) backdrop

"The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop" profiles some of the most talented scenic artists in the history of film and also gives an insightful look into the art of scenic design and how backdrops function in film. Isackes and Maness' essays are a breeze to read and the layout of the book is as beautiful as the images pictured. It is certainly a must-have for the library of any film fan interested in the history of art direction. 

Lost Horizon ( 1937 ) with painted mountains visible in the background

To learn more about "The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop" and Karen Maness click here
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