Wednesday, November 29, 2017

In This House of Brede ( 1975 )

"There is only one special friend here in this house for any of us. 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind'. This is the first and greatest commandment."

In 1975, Diana Rigg starred in the two-hour GE Theater production In This House of Brede as widow Philippa, a successful middle-aged London businesswoman who leaves "the world" to enter Brede Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, as a cloistered nun. 

This CBS television movie was loosely based on author Rumer Godden's engrossing masterpiece of the same name which was published in 1969. Both the novel and the film span a ten-year period and focus on Philippa's growth from a cold bitter woman to a compassionate and loving nun. 

When we first meet Philippa she is stern-faced, independent, and not particularly likable. She comes to Brede for the wrong reasons. She comes seeking a refuge from her past, "a place where God would be all and there would be no need of ever saying 'I love you' to another human being again". And then Joanna arrives. This sweet young novice makes Philippa realize just how deeply she longs for the love of the daughter that was taken from her years before. 

Philippa thought she could leave the memory of her daughter's death behind her but Sister Joanna's presence serves as a living symbol of the event. At first, she despises the girl for that reason but as her hatred transforms into love she comes to see Joanna as a gift from God ( the Biblical meaning of the name Joanna )....until Sister Agnes informs the abbess of their affection for each other. Special friendships within the community were frowned upon by the order. Philippa then realizes she must break away from Joanna. 

"It is such a bother loving people.....one always suffers in the end" 
In Godden's novel, Philippa was just one part of a rich complex tapestry that centered around the true heart of the novel - Brede itself. It is a beautiful novel that contains stories within stories, all of which unfold randomly, slowly revealing personalities and messages of wisdom. 

An accurate transcription to film of such a narrative would have resulted in an immense production - but it would have made a fabulous mini-series. Instead, to condense the story to its two-hour time frame, screenwriter James Costigan eliminated many of the characters and shifted the focus on Philippa's struggle to overcome her grief; rewriting the story to accommodate this. The resulting script had its good and bad points. While Costigan managed in part to capture the essence of the book, certain scenes were overly sentimental and the behavior of some of the nuns seemed improbable. 

In the novel, one of the more prominent characters was Sister Cecily, an angelically beautiful postulant that quickly becomes a favorite with Abbess Catherine and Dame Maura, the precentrix. Costigan eliminated the character of Dame Maura and cleverly transformed the bond she shares with Sister Cecily into a mother-daughter relationship between Dame Philippa and Sister Cecily, whom he renamed Joanna....which so happens to have been the name of Philippa's deceased daughter. As New York Times critic John J. O'Connor described this reworking, "It's a trifle too pat, considerably more calculating and less interesting. That much understood, In this House of Brede still emerges as inspired television." 
Indeed, it is an excellent production, and it is one of those rare films that saves its best moments for the final quarter. Cinematographer Christopher Challis ( Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ) beautifully photographed it, and the cast and crew traveled to the small village of Millstreet in County Cork, Ireland to film scenes amidst the authentic background of Drishane Convent, an impressive structure that serves a majestic purpose. This building becomes as much a part of the film as any of the characters. 

Dame Diana Rigg, who, for her part, was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress ( Juliet Mills won for QB VII that year ), enacted the spiritual growth of Dame Philippa with great conviction. 
In This House of Brede also benefited from top-notch performances from Judi Bowkers as Sister Joanna, Denis Quilley as Philippa's former lover Sir Richard, and Nicholas Clay. Gwen Watford ( Cleopatra, Taste the Blood of Dracula ) perfectly captured the strong yet gentle and understanding nature of Abbess Catherine, while veteran English actress Pamela Brown ( I Know Where I'm Going, Lust for Life ) was an ideal Dame Agnes, intelligent but with a dangerously suspicious mind. 

"Whenever things seem too much for you, go down to the bottom of the garden and turn, and look back up here at Brede riding against the sky like a great proud ship. And think of all of us within - your sisters. Think of those who were here a hundred years ago and those who will be here a hundred years from now: this long unbroken line of care and companionship."
Click here to view In This House of Brede on Youtube. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Das Schweigen im Walde ( 1955 )

When my sister and I first started watching some of the German/Austrian "Heimatfilms" we were unfamiliar with any of the main or supporting actors that starred in these films, but the more of them we watched the more familiar the faces became and now there are always one or two recognizable characters in every new Heimatfilm that we see.

Well, Rudolf Lenz is a very recognizable face ( a handsome fellow he be ), and since he made so many Heimatfilms you are likely to see him in just about any one of the 1950s films that you choose to watch. He had a regal bearing, so he was generally cast as a count, duke, or other member of royalty. 

In Das Schweigen im Walde ( Silence in the Forest ) he was Prinz Heinz of Ettingen, a prince who takes a hunting holiday in the forests near the Salzburg mountains. While resting from a hike in the woods he spies a beautiful young woman ( Sonja Sutter ) riding upon a donkey in the midst of the morning sun. She is a painter named Lo Petri who lives in the forest with her little brother Gustl ( Heinz Christian ). Prinz Heinz befriends her and comes to visit her daily....but never lets on that he is a prince.

Meanwhile, Toni Mazegger ( Peter Arens ), one of the paid hunters that was assigned to the prince, becomes jealous of the attention that he is paying to Lo, whom he fancies as his girl. In a fit of rage, he decides to do a bit of hunting on his own one afternoon....setting his gunsight on the prince himself!
Like many of the Heimatfilms of the 1950s, Das Schweigen im Walde was based upon a book that was filmed numerous times over. The 1899 Ludwig Ganghofer novel formed the basic plot of the original version which was a silent film released in 1929. Another version was made in 1937, and then a remake of this film was made in 1976, all bearing the same title. 

Das Schweigen im Walde featured beautiful mountain scenery, a gentle romance between the prince and Lo, and some charming sets, but the story plot was not as engaging as some of the other Heimatfilms we have seen. The film lacked a humorous subplot as well as any traditional Alpine music, which is always nice to hear in the background. 

However, if Rudolf Lenz catches your fancy be sure to check him out in Heimatlos ( 1958 ) and Der Priester und das Mädchen ( 1958 ), both with Marianne Hold. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

From the Archives : A Canterville Ghost ( 1944 )

Little Lady Jessica ( Margaret O'Brien ) is whispering secret words to her pal Sir Simon of Canterville ( Charles Laughton ) the ghost of Canterville Castle in this scene from The Canterville Ghost, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer's charming 1944 adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic. 

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, November 22, 2017

The Small Back Room ( 1949 )

Bomb expert and research scientist Sammy Rice ( David Farrar ) is recruited by Army captain Dick Stuart ( Michael Gough ) during the height of World War II to investigate a dangerous new bomb that the German's are scattering throughout Britain's beaches. Sammy struggles with alcoholism and a sense of worthlessness because of a recent injury which left him with a wooden leg, but when he puts his life on the line to disengage one of these bombs he realizes just how beautiful life is - even with a game leg. 

Director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger made a number of excellent dramas in the 1940s which they released under the banner of their production company The Archers. The most famous of these films ( A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes ) were beautifully shot in Technicolor by cinematographer Jack Cardiff. After the color explosion that audiences witnessed in The Red Shoes, Powell decided to return to using black and white film, which the Archers were known for throughout the 1930s. This was a good choice for it emphasized the despair and the struggles that our hero, Sammy, was facing. Adding to his worries, the research department that he works for happens to be undergoing a shift in management and Sammy feels that his prospects for the future seem as bleak as the work environment he is accustomed to. The title The Small Back Room cleverly refers to the department's makeshift offices. ( In the U.S, the film was released as Hour of Glory, which was an equally fitting title ).  

Like most of the Powell/Pressburger films, The Small Back Room features some stunning camerawork ( Christopher Challis was the cinematographer ) and moving performances from all of the principal players, especially from the underrated David Farrar. However, the film lacks the momentum of the Archer's other pictures. The mystery of the German bombs that are being randomly dropped throughout Britain is the thread that binds the story and yet it seems to be hidden among the tangled netting of Sammy's personal travails until the final quarter of the picture. Sammy's struggle with self-worth and his romance with Susan, a secretary, instead take center stage. 
Kathleen Byron, another underrated actress ( and one of Michael Powell's favorite players ) portrays this secretary. This character is quite unlike the neurotic Sister Ruth that Byron is famous for playing in Black Narcissus ( 1947 ). Susan is a lovely woman who stands behind Sammy in his moments of darkness.

The Small Back Room isn't one of Powell and Pressburger's best works but it has its moments of glory and it offers an insightful look into the emotional/moral struggles that many of the "back room boys" must have been wrestling with during the war. Cyril Cusack, Jack Hawkins, and Leslie Banks also star. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Doombolt Chase ( 1978 )

HTV, an independent British production company, released a number of memorable children's television series throughout the 1970s and 1980s....one of which was The Doombolt Chase, a six-part adventure serial that aired in March 1978.

Don Houghton, a writer who contributed to several Doctor Who and Sapphire & Steel episodes, penned the screenplay for this clever sci-fi adventure which centers around the British navy. When Commander David Wheeler ( Donald Burton ) rams and destroys an unarmed vessel without a motive he is court-martialed
and later imprisoned. His son Richard ( Andrew Ashby ), who believes that his father received secret orders to ram the vessel, embarks on a search for information that might clear his name. Joining him in the hunt are his friends Lucy ( Shelley Crowhurst ) and Peter ( Richard Willis ). Their investigations lead them into a dangerous web of intrigue and espionage involving secret codes and a deadly new weapon of war known as the Doombolt. 

The Doombolt Chase was the second of two naval-themed adventure serials produced by Peter Graham Scott that were aimed at teenage audiences ( Scott had also produced the chilling 1977 Children of the Stones serial ). It is an exciting little production that combines authentic action scenes with location filming, numerous plot twists, a spunky theme song, and some fine acting by veteran Brits such as Peter Vaughn and Frederick Jaeger. 
The Doombolt Chase has been beautifully restored and is currently available on DVD through Network Distributing Limited. If you're interested in this series, you may also enjoy Follow Me ( 1977 ). To check out other Network DVD release reviews simply click here

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Oh, now doesn't this scene look familiar! You may not know the name of this actress, but you know the film. Look at all that sheet music....and yet, she doesn't even look at it when she plays. Why?

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 screenshot from The Spiral Staircase ( 1946 ). In this scene, the pianist is playing accompanying music to "The Kiss" which is appearing on the projection screen before her

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Joan Fontaine - A Rising Star

JOAN FONTAINE comes close to her famous one-picture-to-stardom Rebecca role in her currently releasing Suspicion with Cary Grant. And so, the great question of whether Miss Fontaine - or Mrs. Brian Aherne, if you prefer - was a flash in the pan is definitely settled. She's not. 

She is an actress of the first water, crystal-clear, no flaws, and far outshadowing the sister who long cast a shadow over her, Olivia de Havilland. A moving, intensely human story lies behind this fait accompli. 

A blonde, Joan has more than her share of good looks and a bright and charming spirit that has made her a favorite with all Hollywood. However, as a child in Tokyo, Joan was ill a great deal of the time. She was a lonely little girl because she did not have the strength to play when her necessary schoolwork was done. After her family had moved to San Francisco, Joan regained her health in the dry, sunlit air of Saratoga. 

Five feet three inches tall, Joan weighs 108 pounds, favors outdoor sports for exercise, specifically swimming and tennis at which she is adept. Her favorite hobbies are reading history and indulging her life-long weakness for Japanese art. 

It probably was Olivia herself who first challenged Joan to be something besides Olivia's sister. Five years ago Joan was just a stock player, a girl for whom the screen producers held little promise. Olivia had arrived and great things were in store for her. She got many of them except the part of Rebecca which little sister Joan swiped right from under her nose. Joan also won or was won by the talented English actor Brian Aherne, and between them, their mutual romance worked wonders in giving Joan new self-assurance. So inspired, Joan delivered to director Alfred Hitchcock an amazing Rebecca, dissolved the shadow of Olivia, and all the time was having gruesome bouts with hay fever (which she still has in its meanest form every year). 
Suspicion, a picturization of "Before the Fact," with Alfred Hitchcock again wielding the megaphone, is the story, most difficult to convey, of what goes on in the mind of a young wife infatuated with her swashbuckling, loving husband, who in all respects but his marital fidelity is a no-good loafer with what apparently is a tendency toward homicide for funds. It is a thrilling, chilling and superbly acted drama by Grant and particularly Miss Fontaine ... despite her hay fever ... and Olivia. -Evans Plummer

Joan Fontaine never really outshadowed her sister Olivia, but she did have a unique presence onscreen and made a number of really fine films. The above portrait of her is one of the loveliest we've ever seen. This article originally appeared in Movie-Radio Guide ( Vol. 11, No. 7 ) dated the week of November 22-28th, 1941. 

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!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

British Pathé - Fabric Pictures by Eugenie Alexander ( 1958 )

Our latest entry in the British Pathé series spotlights a 1958 newsreel about an artist who worked with an unusual medium - fabric. Her name is Eugenie Alexander and her artwork was famous enough to warrant the publication of a book "Fabric Art" published just a year after this short 2-minute newsreel was filmed. 

These days this type of fabric artwork is often called "textile collage" and, while the announcer proclaims that it had existed since ancient Egyptian times, it was rare to find such an artist working with this medium in the 1950s and is still quite rare today ( most collage artists prefer working with paper and glue ). Still, it is a lovely and colorful form of art and Eugenie's designs bring to mind the work of Charles Wysocki who liked to evoke traditional American folk art style in his paintings. 

Eugenie's patterns also remind me of the opening title credits in Walt Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks ( 1968 ) which were created by David Jonas and made to look like the 12th-century Bayeaux tapestry....one of the most magnificent examples of ancient fabric art. Her figures are lanky and the facial features medieval. 
Eugenie's husband, Bennett Carter, holds up some of her works for the camera to see, one of which is this pretty turn-of-the-century tableau ( shown above ). Although Carter is introduced as an "artist and teacher" I was not able to discover any background history about him. 

Ready to watch Fabric Pictures? Simply click on the link below. 

British Pathé - Fabric Pictures.

Other similar British Pathé clips : 

Nature Designs in Fabric  ( 1957 ) - 3:09 min
Fabric Painting and Printing ( 1955 ) - 1:58 min

Monday, November 6, 2017

From the Archives : Miracle in the Rain ( 1956 )

Van Johnson and Jane Wyman tenderly embracing in a scene from Miracle in the Rain ( 1956 ), a touching World War II romance film. In this scene, Johnson's character was about to be called away overseas and he had a feeling it would be the last time he would see his sweetheart. 

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
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