Friday, November 30, 2018

The Getting of Wisdom ( 1977 )

"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." - Proverbs 4:7

Laura Tweedle Rambotham, a delightfully awkward country girl, quickly discovers that at the exclusive Presbyterian Ladies' College in Melbourne, the getting of wisdom entails learning to conform to the behavior of your classmates, regardless of how stuffy and repressive their attitudes may be. It also means following the rules of socializing which she, unfortunately, has not fathomed. Nor will she by the conclusion of the film. 

The Getting of Wisdom, a 1977 Australian production, follows the plight of the plain, unconventional Laura from her first day at school to her graduation from the college four years later. She arrives as a talented, imaginative, outspoken, and overly-confident thirteen-year-old and leaves as a pompous, irritable, and all the more insecure young woman. 

One assumes that as the story unfolds the gradual transformation of an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan full of womanly graces will become apparant...but this does not happen. It is this aspect that made Henry Handel Richardson's classic 1910 novel "The Getting of Wisdom" so amusing. Director Bruce Beresford ( Driving Miss Daisy, Fried Green Tomatoes ), who had delighted in reading the novel as a teenager, wanted to keep this feature of the book when he adapted it to film. 

So often our schoolgirl heroines are shy lovable lambs who are thrown amongst a pack of worldly-wise teenagers eager to toy with their innocence. But Laura is nothing of the kind. She is utterly assured of her own genius and anticipates settling into the school with relative ease. She hopes to impress her way to success both academically and socially but finds that no one appreciates a show-off. After her disappointing arrival - and her first cry - she begins to build an emotional armor constructed of suspicion, fear, and self-doubt. 

As producer Philip Alford commented, "this ugly duckling never becomes a swan, not in the film, but she is taken under the wing of a swan". This swan, the elegant Evelyn Suitor, is one of the few people to have confidence in Laura and like her for who she is - a thoroughly selfish and crusty little girl. She gives Laura the opportunity to soften her heart and be more open and tender but Laura is blind to this. We can only hope that she loses her irritability and obstinacy later in life. 

The Getting of Wisdom, a coming-of-age drama set in the early 1900s, touches on themes of romance, friendship, possessiveness, and acceptance. It was a film project very dear to Bruce Beresford's heart. He felt that there were many qualities in Laura's character that adolescents could relate to, which is quite true. The Ladies College, like most schools, is a microcosm of society where one can study and learn the rules of social intercourse. Unfortunately, the college's inmates are primarily shallow individuals.

"Everyone knows my mother is just a postmistress and does embroidery. I know what it is like not to have pocket money and beautiful clothes."
When Laura first arrives, she discovers that having a mother who works for a living is considered by her prestigious peers to be deeply shameful. Hence, she comes to downplay her homelife and searches instead for other means of gaining acceptance among her classmates. One method is through lies. 

During her second year at the school, she concocts an illicit affair between herself and the handsome new minister Reverend Shepard ( John Waters ), a fantasy that she almost comes to believe herself. She basks in the fame this lie creates for her, but only for a short while. Once her deception is exposed, she is ostracized by all her classmates....except Evelyn. This lovely senior takes a shine to the imaginative youngster. They share a common bond in Schubert and a skepticism towards authority figures, especially the kind that the college is comprised of: uncompassionate self-righteous dictatorial teachers. These include the draconian headmistress Mrs. Gurley, the Reverend Strachey, and Miss Zielinski ( Candy Raymond ). Only Miss Chapman ( Patricia Kennedy ) shows an inkling of interest in the girls, but she does not garner their respect, hence they take no notice of her. 
Like the book, The Getting of Wisdom is a mockery of class, a skillful study of human behavior brimming with shrewd humor, although this humor is much more subdued onscreen. The film is quite faithful to the novel except that Beresford chose to shift Laura's literary ambition to a musical one. Interestingly, he also added a strong sapphic undercurrent, making Laura not only emotionally but sexually attracted to Evelyn. 

"What have those little monsters been telling you? Probably a pack of lies."

Evelyn represents the ideal that Laura is seeking ( Beresford even hints that she represents Wisdom herself ) and while there is satisfaction in being near to and loved by one so graceful it is not enough. Laura's worship of Evelyn and her infatuation with the exoticism that such a sophisticated older student would choose her as a companion eventually turns into obsession and possessiveness with Laura declaring, "I'll never share you with anybody!". In the novel, Evelyn takes this in her usual good humor and the two remain friends after their school years are over. However, in the film, Laura's jealousy turns to bitterness which is played out realistically in one of the many biting scenes in the picture.
16-year-old Susannah Fowle, a Melbourne schoolgirl, was selected from among 6,000 applicants to play the part of Laura. She had no prior acting experience and yet gives a passionate performance primarily through subtle gestures and facial expressions. Fowle makes the character as dislikable as possible; in fact, much harsher than the book leads us to believe her to be. Only at times does Fowle permit us a glimpse at Laura's heart. 

Hillary Ryan, who plays the part of Evelyn Suitor, was an American-born beauty whom Beresford had discovered in London. She should have gone on to have a long career in film but, instead, only made a handful of appearances in television. 
John Waters is marvelous as the dashing but thoroughly boorish new minister and the rest of the cast is equally well-selected, particularly the schoolgirls. All of the teachers are merely caricatures overshadowed by the girls whom they teach. Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna, was an interesting if not daring choice for the role of the puritanical Reverand Strachey, and Sheila Helpmann ( as fearsome looking as her brother Robert ) is suitably impregnable as Mrs.Gurley. 

The cinematography by Don McAlpine is beautiful and innovative. He featured an interesting selection of shots, mixing high and low angle compositions and wide-angles in place of close-ups. 
The Getting of Wisdom is built up of short numerous episodic sequences. While the film unfolds slowly enough these individual scenes are played out too quickly. They are also filled with subtle touches which unfortunately are not emphasized enough to make the audience take notice of them. For example, in the finale, Laura's last-minute decision to play Schubert's Impromptu ( a piece which she had played twice with Evelyn ) at her piano recital instead of the announced Beethoven's Sonata No. 21 is a final touch of defiance to the school she is leaving and an acknowledgment that she is still besotted with Evelyn. The camera pans several teachers and students as Laura begins the piece, but it fails to show the reaction of Mrs. Hicks, the music teacher, whose expression would have clued the audience that Laura was not playing the intended composition. It takes repetitive viewings to fully appreciate scenes like this but if the audience is not hooked on the initial viewing then it is unlikely they will return to give the film a more thorough look. 

Eleanor Whitcomb's screenplay fails to resolve Laura's character and this results in a loss of coherence of the entire film. At the conclusion of the picture we are left waiting for Laura to release the pent-up emotions of the past school year and toss her hat in the air as the poster suggests, but even this she does not do. 
The sum of its parts simply does not equal a whole but overall, the pleasure derived from these individual scenes more than compensate for its inadequacies and The Getting of Wisdom is still worth a viewing. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

From the Archives: A Little Romance ( 1979 )

Laurence Olivier is looking rather serious, but dapper nevertheless, in this scene from A Little Romance ( 1979 ). This charming coming-of-age film is about two youngsters who steal away to Venice with the aid of an old pickpocket - Olivier. They wish to kiss on the Bridge of Sighs which, according to legend, means they will stay together forever. 

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 :

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Half a Sixpence ( 1967 )

"But when I'm with you, one and one make two...." 

Prior to leaving for London for his apprenticeship at a tailor shop, Arthur gives his childhood sweetheart Ann a token of his eternal love - a sixpence cut in half. "And though that half a sixpence can only mean half a romance, remember that half a romance is better than none. But when I'm with you, one and one make two, and likewise, two half sixpence joined together make one."

It is a sweet sign of a little boy's affection for his girl and, throughout their adolescence, they correspond with each other daily via letters. One day, Ann ( Julia Foster ) comes up to London to begin her new job in the big city and they arrange to meet in the park, seeing each other for the first time in years. They are two of a kind and are obviously meant for each other, but an unexpected inheritance from Arthur's grandfather leaves the lad suddenly rich and this enormous windfall changes his character making him look for happiness outside of his own backyard. He begins to put on airs and takes a fancy to the fetching socialite Miss Helen ( Penelope Horner ), disowning the company of not only his mates at work but Ann as well.
Half a Sixpence was based on the 1905 novel "Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul" by science-fiction author H.G. Wells. It was first brought to the screen in 1941 as Kipps starring Michael Redgrave and Diana Wynyard. This was a beautiful adaptation but purely dramatic, with no musical numbers. It was not until 1963 that David Heneker wrote 15 songs for the musical adaptation which premiered in London's West End theatre district. 

Tommy Steele, a British singing sensation, starred in this stage production. He was a glove-fit for the role of Arthur Kipps. When the stage show was brought to film in 1967, Steele was already establishing a screen-presence for himself through films such as Tommy the Toreador, The Dream Maker, and The Happiest Millionaire. Steele had a joie de vivre that made him a delight to watch on stage and onscreen. His toothy grin would light up any scene that he was in. In Half a Sixpence, he practically carries the entire film on his own bony shoulders. While the rest of the cast is pleasant enough to watch, they are all really supporting roles to Kipps. 

Julia Foster ( Alfie ) dyed her hair from blonde to brown to play Ann and is charming as Kipps sweetheart. Also in the cast is Pamela Brown, a favorite of director Michael Powell; Cyril Ritchard, a legendary ham; Penelope Horner, always looking lovely in soft-focus; James Villiers, and Jean Anderson. 

Half a Sixpence was aimed toward a more youthful audience and includes a few typical swingin' 60s show scenes and zany moments. Heneker's tunes are easy on the ears with "Half a Sixpence" and "If the Rains Gonna Fall" being the most memorable of all the songs. 

What stands out most in the film is the beautiful cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth. This man was responsible for the gorgeous filming of British classics such as Scott of the Antarctic, Trio, Turn the Key Softly, and A Night to Remember. Most of Half of Sixpence takes place in the autumn and Unsworth brought out the beauty of the golden hues of England during that time of year. 
Director George Sidney, an excellent director from the golden age of MGM musicals ( The Harvey Girls, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate ) did great work with Half a Sixpence. The only disappointing aspect of the film is its length. Some scenes - mainly the musical numbers - are unnecessary or drawn-out excessively. But this seems to have been a fad with musicals in the late 1960s - Hello, Dolly!, Doctor Dolittle, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips are all over two hours in runtime. Overall, Half a Sixpence is not half that bad and if the rains gonna fall then its a great film to sit back and enjoy. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Listen to this man speak! Obviously, one of these fellows needs a hearing horn to aid him in this task while the other is looking on a bit incredulously. You probably know all of these character actors, so all you have to do now is name the film that they appeared in together. Simple? Perhaps...perhaps not. But why don't you give it a try anyway... All guesses are free! 

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


Congratulations to The Tactful Typist for correctly guessing "That Forsyte Woman" ( 1949 ) starring Greer Garson, Errol Flynn, and Robert Young!! In this scene, near the beginning of the film, all of the members of the Forsyte clan are gathered for a family reunion. Behind Halliwell Hobbes is an oil painting of the eldest Forsyte, portrayed by Harry Davenport, who is just off the screen to the right. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

British Pathé: Twig Jewellery by Andrew Grima ( 1964 )

This week I went through a jewelry-making craze and this particular video from the British Pathé collection caught my eye because it discusses one of the jewelry-making processes of Andrew Grima. 
This Italian-born designer was known as the "Man with the Midas Touch". His creations, in those days, were fetching up to £10,000...and he did not reach his peak of popularity at that time! It was during the 1970s that celebrities and members of royalty began purchasing his unique nature-inspired pieces of fine jewelry and that is when he truly made his name as a designer. 

This 3:12 minute clip is fascinating because it gives us a glimpse of his jewelry-making process, which appears to have been assembled by a staff of craftsman and by Andrew Grima himself. I suppose that is the privilege of being a designer, one can hire others to squint through their spectacles at the tiny gemstones. Here, the process of how Grima creates his "twig" recreations in gold is revealed. What I found especially fascinating was the scene of Grima driving his Aston-Martin through the foggy English countryside to gather twigs in the forest. Most people can find twigs in their own backyard but I suppose he was looking for special gnarly twigs. The final result he achieves from his gold casting is beautiful, so it was obviously worth a trek in the woods. 
Today, Grima's children carry on his jewelry business in London. You can see some of the current Grima pieces as well as Andrew's work on their website:

Ready to see twig jewelry being made? Simply click on the link below: 

Twig Jewellery

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Pete's Dragon ( 1977 )

"Boo-Bop-BopBop-Bop, I love you, too!" 

Good ol' Elliott. He is exactly the kind of companion any child would wish to have. Strong, clever, amusing, cuddly, fun to be with, and he has the ability to make himself invisible when asked ( how many friends do you know who will disappear for you? ). Elliott's best quality is undoubtedly who he is - a dragon. Friends come in all shapes and sizes, and Elliott is just about the best shape and size of any dragon you can imagine. He is of the jolly-green-giant variety. 

How does one get a friend such as Elliott? Well, as his pal Pete explains, "nobody owns Elliott, he just sort of goes to those who need him". Truly need him. Pete ( Sean Marshall ) was such a boy. He was an orphan who was purchased by the nasty Gogan family to be used as an extra hand on their farm. He ran away one night and came to the town of Passamaquoddy where he met Nora ( Helen Reddy ) and her father Lampie ( Mickey Rooney ), who operate the lighthouse in the seaside village. Pete wants to belong to someone - and someplace - and he feels like Nora and Passamaquoddy are where he belongs. Only, the Gogans are anxious to get the full value of the $50 they paid for Pete and have come to bring him home. 

"That boy is our legal property, same as the family cow!"
Pete's Dragon was based on an original short-story by Seton I. Miller, who was famous for penning the screenplays to some of Errol Flynn's best films of the 1930s and 1940s ( The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Dawn Patrol, The Sea Hawk ). Walt Disney had purchased the rights to his unpublished work in the 1950s with the intention of adapting it for television. It sat on a shelf until S.S Field fleshed out the idea and Malcolm Marmorstein ( Dark Shadows ) typed out the screenplay in 1977. 

Walt Disney Studios always had a flair for creating entertaining musicals suitable for children of all ages and Pete's Dragon certainly combines all the elements you would hope to find in a family fantasy film: a touch of magic, a dastardly yet highly amusing villain by the name of Doctor Terminus ( Jim Dale ), quaint settings, a beautiful feminine lead, and a dash of romance - in the form of a long-lost sea captain.

Surprisingly, Pete's Dragon was made at a time when the studio was floundering. Animated films, which Walt Disney had always been known for, were no longer popular in the theatres and even family-based entertainment such as this story, was viewed as being passé. The studio was going through its dark ages for sure, so it is a wonder that Pete's Dragon was such a success at the box-office, raking in nearly four times its $10 million budget. 

"Life is lollipops and raindrops with the one you love, Someone you can always be with, Argue and agree with....climb the highest tree with..."

The film benefits from a great cast which includes the old legend of Hollywood, Mickey Rooney, along with Red Buttons and Shelley Winters ( as Mrs. Gogan ). Helen Reddy, who hailed from Australia, was a singer who had made an international hit with the Grammy award-winning song "I Am Woman". She had a brief appearance in Airport 1975 ( as Sister Ruth ) before she was offered the lead in Pete's Dragon. Reddy had a natural talent for acting and this should have been the start of a long acting career but, unfortunately, that never came about. 
Sean Marshall, who portrayed Pete, had a few roles in films and television shows prior to Pete's Dragon. After this film, he was a regular on two short-lived television series, The Fitzpatricks, and The MacKenzies of Paradise Cove, and then retired from film. Jim Dale was marvelous as Dr. Terminus. He began acting in the British Carry-On film series from the 1960s and made a few more Disney films after Pete before focusing his talent on voice-recordings, being especially famous for reading the Harry Potter books for audio release. Also in the cast was Jim Backus, Gary Morgan, Charlie Callas, Charles Tyner, and Jane Kean. 

Pete's Dragon boasts an engaging Oscar-nominated musical score, conducted by Disney great Irwin Kostal. For once, the famous Sherman Brothers could not be credited with writing the music to this film, even though Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha's songs featured some equally clever lyrics. "Candle on the Water" and "It's Not Easy" are two of the most memorable tunes. 
Pete's Dragon does run rather long and could have benefited from a few well-placed editing cuts, but on the whole, it's a colorful film with some very entertaining brazzle-dazzle moments. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Ivanhoe ( 1952 )

Sir Walter Scott's 1819 epic medieval novel "Ivanhoe" was brought to the big screen in 1952 as a gorgeous Technicolor adaptation released through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Like many medieval films of the era, it combined romance, drama, and a good deal of swordplay into an adventure-packed 100-minute runtime. 

Ivanhoe was first brought to the screen in 1913, as a silent film starring King Baggot and Leah Baird. Surprisingly, it was not filmed again in the 1920s ( Ronald Colman missed out on a great opportunity here ), nor in the 1930s and 1940s. 

Finally, in 1952, when Pandro S. Berman undertook to produce it, he hired that old pro at MGM, Richard Thorpe, to direct the film. Thorpe whipped together a scrumptious feast of derring-do and the success of this film lead him to helm several other similarly themed pictures, including The Prisoner of Zenda ( 1952 ), Knights of the Round Table ( 1953 ), and The Adventures of Quentin Durward ( 1955 ), two of which starred Robert Taylor, the titular hero of Ivanhoe. 
Robert Taylor was "Taylor-made" for roles such as Sir William of Ivanhoe, convincing audiences that he was the embodiment of noble virtues such as bravery, honesty, gentleness, and honor. In this film, he is the famous chivalrous Anglo-Saxon knight who is on a mission to return the imprisoned king, Sir Richard the Lionheart, to his throne which has been usurped by his nefarious brother Prince John ( Guy Rolfe ). With the aid of Isaac ( Felix Aylmer ), the old leader of a Jewish community, he collects the necessary ransom amount to free the king but must first clash swords with the knight De Bois-Guilbert ( George Sanders ) before he sees Richard seated in his rightful place again. 

Unlike some studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer never made films in a half-hearted fashion, and Ivanhoe was no exception. It had a budget of nearly $4,000,000 which permitted the cast to be sent to England for interior and exterior shooting at the MGM British Studios in Borehamwood and Ashby de-la Zouch, villages steeped in English history. Alfred Junge designed the interiors of all of the sets, with Roger Furse ( Henry V ) providing the scrumptious costumes for the knights and ladies, which included Joan Fontaine as Rowena and Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca.

Elizabeth Taylor was only nineteen-years-old at the time, but so expressive in her acting and certainly the most beautiful actress to ever portray Rebecca. Also in the excellent cast was Emlyn Williams as Wamba, Robert Douglas, Finlay Currie, Basil Sydney, Megs Jenkins, Francis de Wolff, and Harold Warrender as Robin Hood. 

Some have claimed that Ivanhoe is not entirely faithful to the book, but surely some allowances had to be made for the sake of condensation. The thrill of seeing the story that unfolds onscreen inspires one to read the novel. This should be the aim of any great literary-to-film adaptation, and Ivanhoe accomplishes this. 
Upon its release, Ivanhoe was a huge earner at the box-office, both in the States and in England, grossing over $10,000,000 in sales. It also triggered the birth of a medieval genre of films that had not been popular since Errol Flynn starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

From the Archives: Footsteps in the Fog ( 1955 )

Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger are featured in this publicity photo for the London-set drama/thriller "Footsteps in the Fog" released by Columbia Pictures in 1955. This was the fourth and last film that Simmons and Granger, who were a wedded couple, made together. 

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 :