Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Egyptian ( 1954 )

"I feel the fever of Thebes in my blood, and I know that I was born to live in the sunset of the world and that nothing matters, nothing, but what I see in your eyes."

Sinuhe, a poor orphan in Egypt during the eighteenth-dynasty, rises to fame as a great physician and, along with his friend Horemheb ( Victor Mature ) is appointed to the service of the new Pharaoh ( Michael Wilding ). During the span of ten years, he learns dangerous secrets in the royal court, discovers enemies plotting against the pharaoh, learns who his true friends are, and has a life-changing encounter with the temptress, Nefer ( Bella Darvi ). Along the journey, Sinuhe seeks to find the answer to a question that has aroused his curiosity since his youth - Who Am I? and Who is My God? 

The Egyptian, a 20th Century Fox release, was beautifully filmed in Cinemascope and featured a magnificent score by Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann. It should rank among the top epics of the 1950s but unfortunately, it has not yet shaken its reputation of being the first box-office flop shot in Cinemascope. 

Why did it fail at the box-office? That's difficult to fathom because the film really is entertaining and the production quality is top-notch. Michael Curtiz ( Casablanca, Mildred Pierce ) directed the picture, which was based on Mika Waltari's best-selling novel "The Egyptian". 
This book was first published in 1945 in Finnish and is still considered one of the greatest books in Finnish literary history. The unchanging nature of mankind is essentially the theme to the novel and this provides the basis of the film, too, but, it being a Hollywood production, Nefer's seduction of Sinuhe and how this leads to his downfall gets the spotlight attention. Bella Darvi entraps her man so cunningly that he is bewitched and does not know that he is sacrificing everything he worked so hard to earn. Or rather, he does know but is addicted to her love by that point. 

It is only Kaptah ( Peter Ustinov ) and Merit ( Jean Simmons ), his two dear friends from his days in poverty, that stay near him in his hour of peril. Merit has loved him since he was a boy but he is blind to it and instead, searches for a greater meaning to his life outside of his medical work. Merit is such a lovely character, so loyal to Sinuhe, which makes it especially difficult to watch him cast her aside. 

On the opposite scale is another romance, a much more animal relationship, between the Pharoah's sister ( Gene Tierney ) and Horemheb, who is seeking to use her to climb his way up to becoming the commander of the Egyptian army. 

The Egyptian has as much intrigue in its production history as it does in its plot. The film was originally planned as an epic vehicle for Marlon Brando. Kirk Douglas and Jean Peters were to be his co-stars, but just a week before filming was to begin, Brando backed out....hence, the role was given to MGM-star Edmund Purdum ( after Cameron Mitchell, Farley Granger and Dirk Bogarde were all first dismissed ). 

Peters was later replaced by Simmons, and Kirk Douglas went on to make 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea instead. Bella Darvi was a protege of producer Darryl Zanuck and his wife Virginia ( "Darvi" is a combination of their first names ) and, at the time of filming, Darryl was besotted with Bella, so the film really became a way for him to promote her career as well. 

The picture had an enormous budget of $3.5 million dollars. Many of the sets, costumes, and props were later loaned to Paramount for Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, which was released the same year. Peter Ustinov, when asked what it was like being involved in such an enormous production, said, "It was like being on a monstrously huge set of Aida and not being able to find the way out."

"I have spent my life in seeking knowledge. This is what I know. I have written this for you my son, wherever you are and for your children and your children's children. It's a poor legacy. But it's all I have."

The Egyptian has always been a personal favorite of mine because it mixes action and adventure with romance and the drama of Sinuhe's life, from his quick rise to becoming a physician to the pharaoh, to being a condemned criminal and an outcast in his homeland. The entire cast is excellent, especially Peter Ustinov, who provides some comic relief. Also in the cast is Henry Daniell, John Carradine, Judith Evelyn, Tommy Rettig, and Michael Ansara. 

This review is my contribution to the 90 Years of Jean Simmons Blogathon running today through January 31st. It is being hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies, so be sure to head over to either of these sites to read more Jean Simmons film reviews!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Trio ( 1950 ) - The Sanatorium

During my school years, William Somerset Maugham was one of my favorite authors. He is famous for his novels "The Razor's Edge", "The Moon and Sixpence" and "Of Human Bondage", but he was also an excellent short story writer and many of his best works were short stories. 

In 1948, Gainsborough Studios decided to film a selection of these stories as an anthology film. It was called Quartet and included the tales "The Facts of Life", "Alien Corn", "The Kite", and "The Colonel's Lady". These were excellent adaptations and because they were so entertaining and so well received, two more compilations were made: Trio ( 1950 ) and Encore ( 1951 ). 

Trio included three great stories - "The Verger", the story of a man who climbs to business success not even knowing how to read; "Mr. Know-All", about an obnoxious jewelry dealer who has a change of heart onboard a cruise ship; and the best of the three, "The Sanatorium". This little 45-minute gem shares the stories behind the patients of a rest home in a secluded part of Scotland. 

Most of these patients suffer from tuberculosis and, because of the care they need, have been living at the sanatorium anywhere from two to twenty years. The film focuses on the lives of four of the patients with a particular emphasis on Major Templeton ( Michael Rennie ), the latest arrival. The Major is a hero from battles in British India and is also regarded as quite the ladies' man. He was, and is, a confirmed bachelor. However, the moment he sets his eyes on Evie Bishop ( Jean Simmons ), he desires to not only woo her, but win her as his wife. Miss Bishop has been living at the sanatorium for seven years and, in spite of the lack of social entertainment and companions her own age, is cheerful, confident, and quite flirtatious. Bishop, however, shows very little interest in Templeton at first and it is only slowly that he gains her admiration - and love. 
Roland Culver stars as Mr. Ashedon, sort of the narrator of the story. We come to know the inhabitants of the sanatorium through his eyes and his astute observations of them. He is particularly interested in Mr. Chester ( Raymond Huntley ) and the way he treats his wife when she comes for her monthly visits. For a man who looks forward to seeing his wife as eagerly as Mr. Chester does, Ashedon wonders why he behaves so rudely and indifferent to her when she finally arrives. 

Then there is Campbell ( John Laurie ) and MacLeod ( Finlay Currie ), the two fighting Scotsmen. They are constantly at each other's throats over their game of chess and yet are very dear companions. 
The Sanatorium is beautifully filmed by Geoffrey Unsworth and features a stunning array of English character actors. The episode is filled with so many wonderful details and subtle interchanges between these characters. These really shine when seen over multiple viewings ( the segment's short length lends itself easily to this ), but it is the romance between Major Templeton and Miss Bishop that I find so very entertaining. Both are independent spirits who have no interest in getting involved in marriage and yet, when they find out the state of their health, it is marriage that instantly comes to the forefront of their thoughts. 

Jean Simmons was such a talented actress, even as a child, and, in spite of her youthful appearance, always acted with a maturity beyond her years. When The Sanatorium was filmed, she was twenty years old and never looked more beautiful. Simmons was often cast in films with a contemporary setting but she was so well-suited for these period films, possessing the beauty of Edwardian women.

Her character, Miss Bishop, is both independent and headstrong and yet demure and gentle, and Simmons brings out both of these qualities excellently. It is easy to see why Major Templeton is so quickly taken by her charms. 

Unfortunately, Trio is not yet available on DVD in the United States, but it is available in PAL format through Network DVD both independently and as part of the three-film W. Somerset Maugham collection

This review is my contribution to the 90 Years of Jean Simmons Blogathon running today through January 31st. It is being hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies, so be sure to head over to either of these sites to read more Jean Simmons film reviews!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Heidi ( 1952 ) and Heidi ( 1965 )

Johanna Spyri's beloved children's novel "Heidi" ( 1881 ) was first brought to film in 1937 with Shirley Temple in the starring role. It was a sweet film that, I think, perfectly captured the heart of the novel even though it wasn't true to the original story. This still remains the most popular American production of "Heidi". There has been over 18 different film and television adaptions since, including a popular 1968 TV movie starring Maximilian Schell.

Heidi is about a little girl who comes to live in a secluded mountain chalet with her stern grandfather. One day, her aunt Dete takes her - against her will - to live in Frankfurt as a hired companion to a wealthy girl named Clara, who is regarded as an invalid. Even though Heidi is homesick, her simple kindness and positive outlook help to heal Clara. Eventually, she is taken back to her grandfather who then realizes how much he loves Heidi and how much he missed her. 

In Europe, it was not until 1952 that "Heidi" was made into a movie and this version is still considered by many fans to be the most accurate adaptation of Spyri's novel. The film stars Elsbeth Sigmund in the title role and features a slew of popular European actors in supporting roles. The film was dubbed in both English ( in 1954 ) and French ( with Francoise Dorleac speaking as Heidi ).
Heidi is an adorable little girl but - since I'm partial to the Hollywood version - she seems to lack Shirley Temple's charm. Elsbeth Sigmund's Heidi neither possesses the influential nature to change Clara's outlook nor to soften both her aunt and governess Rottenmeier's attitudes.

The rest of the cast is wonderful. Heinrich Gretler, a marvelous actor, plays Heidi's grandfather; Isa Günther ( Das Doppelte Lottchen ) is Clara; Willy Birgel plays Clara's father, and Elsie Attenhofer is Dete. Theo Lingen, a very popular German actor and comedian of films of the 1940s-1960s, is great as Sebastian, Herr Sesemann's butler, and proves to be a fast friend to Heidi.

Heidi was so popular throughout Europe that Heidi und Peter, the sequel, was released just three years later. This film features the ending from the original novel with Clara coming to visit Heidi and her grandfather in the mountains and learning to walk. 

In 1965, Heidi was also remade in color scene-for-scene in an Austrian production with Eva Maria Singhammer in the title role. Gustav Knuth played Heidi's Großvater and Rudolf Prack had a brief part as the priest. Like the 1952 version, this film featured beautiful music but it, too, lacked the heart needed to make the story come alive. So it looks like, in spite of all the film versions of "Heidi" that exist, the ideal one has yet to be made. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

African Safari ( 1964 )

This 1964 British Pathe newsreel highlights a very untraditional "safari" is actually a roundtrip road rally from Nairobi.  The annual Safari Rally was first held on May 27, 1953, as a celebration of Queen Elizabeth II and was originally known as the East African Coronation Safari. For many years it was famous for being the most difficult and most prestigious rally in the world. 
The route stretched for 3,200 miles and in this particular rally, it was a Ford Cortina GT that snagged first place. A Volkswagen Beetle ( ! ) had won the competition the first two years of the race. The terrain was rocky and dusty but very scenic, hence the title "safari" was very fitting because elephants, rhinos, and wild antelopes could be seen en route. 

If this race sounds like a good concept for a film, well, that idea was taken already. In 1978, an Italian production called 6000 Km di Paura aka Safari Rally was made and featured footage from the 1977 rally. 
The Safari Rally is still being held today and there is even an East African Safari "Classic" Rally that features just classic cars. 

African Safari ( 1964 ) 

Ready to rally? Check out these other rally clips from British Pathé :

Monte Carlo Rally ( 1965 ) - 4:07 min

Alpine Rally ( 1965 ) - 2:40 min

Triumph Car Rally ( 1957 ) - 4:11 min

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Eyewitness ( 1956 )

"A young woman lies dangerously ill in a hospital bed. Concealed in the shadows outside her window is a ruthless killer, ready to murder again to silence this woman, the only eyewitness to his crime..." 

So reads the press release to Eyewitness, a grand little thriller from Rank Studios. It was a Muriel Box film produced by her husband Sidney Box ( brother of the famous British producer Betty Box ). Janet Green penned the script, which was brisk and clever, albeit a bit far-fetched. 
Lucy Church accidentally witnesses a robbery at a movie theatre one evening and, while she is attempting to run away from one of the robbers, gets hit by a bus. Hard luck! She is taken to a hospital, suffering from a minor concussion. There, instead of getting much-needed rest, her life is in danger by the very same robbers. One of them wants to smother her before she comes to and can describe them to the police. 

Most of the action takes place within the hospital or on the grounds outside it. This facility, with its modern architecture, is predominantly glass - which at night time, with a killer on the prowl, can make it seem doubly dangerous. 
One of the patients at the hospital is "Granny", an old lady with two bulging eyes that see everything that goes on around her. Ada Reeve portrays this character and steals every scene she is in. "Nurse! Nurse! There's a man! I saw a man trying to come in!" she hollers. "She's always seeing men. Wishful thinking," the staff respond. 

Muriel Pavlow ( Murder, She Said ) was not a well-known actress but certainly a capable one, as she proves in her portrayal of Lucy... brief as it is. Belinda Lee, who plays the nurse at the hospital, was a lovely British bombshell whose life and career ended much too early. Michael Craig has a minor role as Lucy's husband, but the real stars of the film are Donald Sinden and Nigel Stock, who portray the two amateur crooks. Dangerous as they are, they are quite likable, which adds to the film's appeal. 
The film rarely appears on television but is available on DVD and through streaming on Amazon Prime. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

From the Archives: Island at the Top of the World ( 1975 )

Island at the Top of the World ( 1975 ) was another fun Disney adventure film of the 1970s....not quite in league with such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it had a nice steampunk style to it anyway.  This dirigible was designed by Peter Ellenshaw ( the famous matte artist ) and art director John B. Mansbridge, two men who often worked on Disney productions.

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 :

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Olly Olly Oxen Free ( 1978 )

There are certain films that you have watched in your childhood that need to be revisited as an adult. This is one such film. It has everything in it that would appeal to children - air balloons, adventure, summer fun building stuff, collecting junk - and yet, growing up watching this movie, my sister and I had no interest in it. We found it boring. How our perspectives change with time! 

Olly Olly Oxen Free is really a very entertaining family film. 

Albie ( Kevin McKenzie ) and his friend Chris ( Dennis Dimster ) are two boys who are attempting to repair the hot-air balloon belonging to Albie's late grandfather, an adventurer who flew under the name of The Great Sandusky. Albie wants to celebrate his grandfather's upcoming birthday and decides that taking flight in his old balloon would make his grandpop proud. Helping him in his endeavors is the dotty Miss Pudd, played by Katharine Hepburn. 

The director was clearly targeting the adults in the audience and not children when he made the film and perhaps that is why it did not appeal to us growing up. The story is told in a puffy cloud of nostalgia. All it is missing is the narrative of Albie as an old man telling this story to his children. 

Albie and Chris are your typical young boys living in a not-so-typical surrounding. The Great Sandusky must have left a good fortune to his daughter, for Albie and his mother live in a sprawling century home filled with antiques and paraphilia from his grandfather's flying days. Outside of the house is an enormous greenhouse, now rundown. This is where the old balloon is stored and where much of the film takes place. They are clever and mechanically-minded lads, but rather impetuous. 
Miss Pudd is a character herself. She runs a local junkyard ( housed in and around a converted watermill ) but refuses to sell any of her junk....until she discovers that the boys have imagination and the spirit of adventure in them, just as she has. She is a dreamer, living in a world of hopes and unfulfilled projects. Meeting Albie and Chris breaths new life into her. Now, for the first time, she is working on a project that will become a reality. 

If she is in need of the boys, they are equally in need of Miss Pudd. She spurs them on and encourages them whenever they have their doubts about completing the repair of the balloon. She is also the one doing most of the sewing! 

Elements of Olly Olly Oxen Free are reminiscent of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ( 1968 ), such as the vintage car and the aerial sequences. The eccentric Miss Pudd is rather like Professor Catactacus Potts' father and even bears a similar-sounding name, and the boys also own a sheepdog ( this dog must be part of the standard equipment for inventors ). 

Olly Olly Oxen Free has its moments of improbability but it is a great yarn. As children, we all dream of huge adventurous projects and completing them seems like such an easy task...until we discover that we do not have the knowledge or the resources to accomplish them. Miss Pudd represents that child who has never grown up, but she is given a chance to go on a truly adventurous outing and her determination allows the boys their chance of giving Albie's grandfather the birthday present he deserves. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

This jolly fellow is starting the new year off with some accordion music! I think that is a grand way to celebrate but the man behind him does not seem to be enjoying the music that much. 

Does the scene look familiar? Try and guess which film it is from, all you have to do is drop a movie title in the comment box below. 

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