8.31.2009

Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)


One of the things I hate about being a classic film fan is that everything I like is locked in time. If two people did not make a movie together, they never will. If their filmography includes 3 films (eh-hem, James Dean) that's all it will ever include. We're stuck with what we have, we can't wish for a collaborative match made in heaven. For instance (and I'm just grabbing this one out of thin air, of course) Alfred Hitchcock will never make a movie starring Dirk Bogarde.

This is one collaboration that I really wish I could go back in time to arrange.

In Hitchcock films, the male lead usually falls into one of two categories: innocent, average man gets caught up in a crime or conspiracy (i.e. North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much) or a suave, debonair charmer is actually a psychopathic killer (i.e. Stage Fright and Shadow of a Doubt)

In Cast a Dark Shadow, Dirk Bogarde plays Teddy Bare, a young bluebeard married to a much older, much wealthier woman. The film puts on no pretenses: Teddy is a murderer. By learning this so early in the film the tone is changed completely. Instead of wondering "did he kill her?" or "who killed her?," questions which dominate typical mysteries, this film asks "will he get caught?" and "will he kill again?" But what really makes this film oh-so-Hitchcock is the character of Teddy Bare -- a suave, debonair charmer who is also a psychopathic killer.

Like most Hitchcock characters in this mold, Dirk Bogarde is one heck of a sweet talker. Since you already know what a cad he is, you're amused, not repulsed by the sticky-sweet manner he puts on when trying to impress. Okay, maybe this is just me, and I have some kind of psychological problem, but I always end up rooting for these guys. When he is wooing Margaret Lockwood, a brash rich widow, you KNOW the whole time that he had just killed his previous wife for her money. You KNOW that he is a fortune-hunting heel! You KNOW that he will probably kill Margaret Lockwood. But who are you rooting for? Dirk Bogarde.

I've always loved this trick in Hitchcock films. The killer is so alluring, so fascinating that you can't help but be charmed yourself! Dirk Bogarde played this type of role so well, I sped over to imdb as soon as I was finished watching it to see if he and Sir Alfred had ever made a movie together. It's such a shame that they didn't, because I could easily see Dirk Bogarde being a Hithcock regular. Now if only I could figure out how to go back in time...



8.30.2009

Lyrics for Lovers


On the Dirk Bogarde Estate website, they have the entire album that he recorded in 1960. It's available on CD (you know I'm buying it.) but for free you can listen to the whole thing via this link. Before you listen, a word of warning: he does not sing. It's spoken-word set to music. I happen to like spoken word music (like Charles Boyer's LP Where Does Love Go) but it's an acquired taste. I always used to think it was silly, but it's grown on me.

I really love discovering when actors recorded music, books on tape or spoken word albums, especially actors whose voices are as essential to their acting as their mannerisms and appearance.

I've tried to explain my tastes in vocals before, but nobody ever seems to really understand me -- I'll try it here and see if anyone can make sense of what I have to say :) In music and movies (and life I guess) I like deep voices with some gravel in them. This is why Frank Sinatra is my favorite singer -- if you put on headphones, turn off the lights and close your eyes you can almost feel like you are falling into his voice. His voice reaches into eternity, it just seems like it could go on forever into space. It's so full of depth. And so this was one of the first things I noticed about Dirk Bogarde, too -- he has one of these voices. It's very deep and not entirely smooth. He also speaks with a certain flourish that translates marevelously into these spoken word songs.

Well, I really hope you'll enjoy these! As for me, I'm listening right now!

ps. Thanks Nicole for the picture!!


UPDATE: Just One of Those Things is my favorite -- I hadn't listened to the whole thing when I wrote the post, but I just finished and thought I'd let you know :)

8.29.2009

The Sleeping Tiger (1954)


The Sleeping Tiger is about the repressed wife of a renowned psychologist who reluctantly agrees to let her husband take in a criminal as their house guest, in an effort to rehabilitate him. The DVD I purchased is one of those crummy Alpha movies, always a really bad copy with a jumpy screen. But what I love most about them is the way they describe the films, hoping to grab people who might not normally buy a classic movie:

a devoted wife...
untamed passions...
a deadly web of sin!!!

One word of warning about this particular copy, though: DO NOT look at the back of the DVD case before watching the film. They have a still image of the last scene in the movie which is a dead giveaway to how it ends. Stupid, stupid stupid...

Anyway! On to the film! I really enjoyed this one. Alexis Smith, who plays the buttoned-up housewife, always excels at these "cool on the outside, boiling on the inside" kind of roles. Her stony facial features and icy blonde hair convey a rigidity that works so well for characters like this one. The only downside was that she had the awful 50's haircut that old ladies still sport today. For some reason it was sort of distracting..

Alexander Knox plays the husband. In every film I've seen him in so far, he plays this type of character - calm, highly intelligent and usually a little oblivious. I have to add, one of the things that I've enjoyed most about watching these Dirk Bogarde films is rediscovering a lot of my favorite British character actors. Hugh Griffith (who plays Audrey Hepburn's father in my favorite caper, How to Steal a Million) plays an Inspector who is determined to prove that Dirk Bogarde belongs in jail.

On the surface this movie might seem like a typical b-budget psychological drama. It has all the parts that such a picture would require: love triangle, crime, sleazy nightclubs, psychology and lust. But (oh, you probably knew I'd say this, didn't you?) Dirk Bogarde really elevates the film to a new level. If you read the part of his character in the screenplay, chances are you would imagine a very heavy-handed, melodramatic performance. In one scene (in the beginning, don't worry!) he grabs the maid's wrist and knocks a tray full of dishes out of her hand after she refuses to bring him a cup of coffee. In other hands, this would have looked petty and overly dramatized. But the way that Dirk Bogarde brings the scene to life is realistic. Instead of a demented criminal who terrorizes the maid you can begin to see hints of the tortured soul that was driven to crime because of an awful childhood.

Childhood trauma is what lies at the heart of this film. A lot of movies have dealt with the subject (one of my favorites is Hitchcock's Spellbound) but this one was very different. I might have trouble explaining this, but here goes... In most films with this subject matter, you have two parts: a psychiatrist and a criminal. Throughout the film, the criminal keeps acting mean and brooding while the psychiatrist slowly picks apart his brain to figure out what caused him to do whatever he did.

Now in this film, I think you can see how childhood trauma affects what the criminal is doing before any insight into his past is ever actually uncovered. It's as if Dirk Bogarde really lived his character's life, had those childhood memories and was storing them inside while acting. His movements and decisions betray his steely, hard exterior and show us a scared little boy.

Interestingly, Bogarde's character isn't the only one with a bad-childhood problem. Turns out the Mrs. is also the product of a broken home. This little tidbit, relvealed in the beginning of the film quite in passing, is worth remembering as you watch. While Dirk Bogarde is slowly being cured from his mental anguish by the psychiatrist, the sleeping tiger (all those childhood memories stored inside) are awakening in Alexis Smith.



8.28.2009

The Spanish Gardener (1956)


I had every intention of watching "A Tale of Two Cities" last night, but after getting cozy in bed with some grapefruit juice, turning off the lights and pressing "play" I realized that Netflix had replaced my damaged "A Tale of Two Cities" DVD with.... ANOTHER damaged DVD!! I tried watching the first twenty minutes, regardless of the screen freezing every few minutes, but I just couldn't watch a movie this way. I'm sending it back again and hopefully the next disc will finally work!

So I dragged myself out of bed and got my laptop to watch "The Spanish Gardener" on YouTube. (Link)

The film is about a stiff British foreign diplomat (Michael Hordern) who has basically secluded his son (Jon Whiteley) from contact with other people, in a selfish move to keep him to himself. He doesn't go to school or play with other kids, and since his mother doesn't live with them, his only adult role model is his stuffed-shirt father. All this changes when they move into a Spanish villa and take on a gardener, played wonderfully by Dirk Bogarde.

I wasn't as impressed with this film as I was with the other three Dirk Bogarde films I've watched so far, but this had nothing to do with his performance. There were just a couple little things that bothered me. First, the film is about the "Spanish" gardener, but he's actually British. In fact, everyone in Spain is British. They are slightly tanned, but speak with perfect upper crust British accents. When a director decides that he is not going to make all of his actors speak with accents, I think he should also decide to relocate the setting of the film. This could have easily taken place on the English countryside. Just a few tweaks in the plot about the father's profession and it would have worked ship-shape. But anyway, this didn't bother me THAT much, just a little bit at the beginning (and gave me a chance to voice my stupid pet peeve about fake accents in film)

Something else, however, DID bother me a lot. I feel so awful saying this, but it seems like I really don't like child actors from the 1950's that much. There's just something about them that irks me, especially when they are like 8 or 9 year olds, the toddlers are a little easier to take.

It just so happens that the main character in this movie is not Dirk Bogarde or Michael Hordern, but Jon Whiteley. He's actually the same kid who was in Hunted, the Dirk Bogarde film I watched two nights ago. But this movie was made about 4 years later, giving Jon ample time to grow into that awkward child-actor phase that seems to get on my nerves.

In so many ways, this movie reminded me of Shane. First of all, they both center around a young boy's idolatry of a hired man. Also, they both have child actors that kind of get on my nerves, AND they both feature said child actor cooing the hired man's name over and over and over. "Shaaane, come back Shaaaane" or "Jose! Jose! Come back Jose!" Okay, I get it- their names are Shane and Jose! Sheesh.

I really like the kids in 1930's and 40's films, like Jackie Cooper, Margaret O'Brien, Natalie Wood, Scotty Beckett and Virginia Wiedler. But when the 50's came in, they started hiring kids that have too much of a pretense of wide-eyed innocence and not enough character. All of the kids I mentioned, from the 30's and 40's, had personalities and some
chutzpah. I guess it fits in the bigger picture of 1950's life, with suburbia, Leave it to Beaver, pearls, a new conservatism and Spam.

A little disclaimer before I continue: Yes, there are some really good 1950's child actors so please excuse my generalization. Also, I think that Jon Whiteley's performance in Hunted was stellar, I just wasn't fond of him in this film.

Despite my overwhelming wish throughout the film that the boy would just magically disappear, I actually enjoyed the movie. Michael Hordern gave an excellent performance as the boy's stodgy and emotionally stunted father. I kept trying to place him throughout the first 30 minutes or so before I realized that he is Jacob Marley in the 1951 "A Christmas Carol"! I've never seen him in anything else, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him here.

Dirk Bogarde's role as the Spanish gardener Jose worked really well, regardless of his accent. He played the part with a very even temper and self-assuredness that fit him like a glove. In a particularly melodramatic part of the film (I won't give any more details because it is near the end) Dirk Bogarde overcomes the heavy-handed direction and stirring music, being very understated and calm.

One of the most interesting contrasts throughout the film is between Jose and the father. Whenever even-keeled, relaxed, tanned and athletic Jose is standing next to the father - pale, ancy, agitated and jealous - you can see who has the upper hand, regardless of wealth, social stature or position. This poor gardener is more of a man, and has more love for life than the rich aristocrat.





8.27.2009

Hunted (1952)


I continued my discovery of Dirk Bogarde last night with "Hunted" (1952) (available on YouTube here) Ten years ago when I first started liking classic film, I kept a little diary where I would write down the names of my favorite stars. If I saw them in one film and found them impressive, I'd scribble their name down in the book, with one tally mark representing how many films of theirs I had seen. Only when it reached three tally marks (three films) could that person be an "official" favorite. (I was 13, okay?!) It may seem really silly now, but I wanted to make sure that the one performance wasn't a fluke-- this person was really good!

Well "Hunted" is now my third Dirk Bogarde film. While I don't keep to that same rigid formula for choosing my favorite actors anymore, there's still a part of me that thought, after watching this film last night, that Dirk Bogarde is now an "official" favorite.

The film starts off with a little boy (Jon Whiteley) running away from a burning house. He runs into an abandonded basement and finds Dirk Bogarde standing next to a dead body. Dirk Bogarde abducts the boy and sets out on the lamb.

The film is very dark and definitely has that distinct British post-war cynicysim. But it's also incredibly touching. The little boy is an orphan, abused by his adoptive father. Dirk is a sailor with an unfaithful wife and a family that cares more about keeping up appearances than his own well being. Both neglected and hurt, the two forge an unlikely bond throughout the course of the film. I really love movies that show the human side of people who commit crimes. Too often a murderer or thief is portrayed in a completely evil light, with no reason, conscience or feeling. In this film, we see how Dirk Bogarde's character was led to commit his crime because of circumstances and environment, because of pride and honor. At heart, he is really a softy who just wanted a fairy-tale sort of life with the woman he loved.

The most touching scene in the film takes place about 30 minutes in. Dirk Bogarde and the kid are getting ready to go to sleep and the kid asks for a bedtime story. Reluctantly, Dirk Bogarde starts off telling a silly fairy tale. But once he brings up the princess, in his eyes you can see that he's thinking about his wife. The fictional story slowly turns into his own biography; about his wife's betrayal and the events leading up to the murder. It's heartwrenching to watch him, as his face slowly gets twisted from thinking about his crime.

I read an excerpt this week from Bogarde's book "Snakes and Ladders" about his approach to acting and the camera. He said:

‘It’s what the cinema is all about ... you depend on the thought for the lens ... that is the thing that takes the back of your head right off; and if you’ve got nothing in there, sweetie, it’s going to show that you’ve got nothing in there. You can do anything you like with your face - turn it left, right, twitch, lift your eyebrow, but it’s not going to work because nothing’s really pulled it up. It’s not a question of technical tricks; something has to be happening inside.’
I don't see this too often in movies, but Dirk Bogarde really mastered the technique of thinking on film. It's almost all in the eyes, too. If you watch the film on youtube, look out for the scenes when he's listening for footsteps, or trying to hide without being seen. In these scenes especially you can see his thought processes in his eyes - you can see the fear etched in his face. It's incredible!

Up next on my Dirk Bogarde agenda is The Spanish Gardner (also on YouTube) assuming that my Tale of Two Cities DVD doesn't arrive first -- I had intended to watch it two days ago but the Netflix disc was damaged :(

Hope you guys don't mind me documenting my Dirk Bogarde adventures, I'm just so excited about discovering his films that I feel almost compelled to write about each one!






8.26.2009

Movie posters from Darling






After SP asked in the comments of my last post if I owned the poster pictured (and I reluctantly answered "no") I got to wondering if the poster was actually for sale anywhere. So I went to my favorite movie posters sites and found these charming posters, all for around $15 each (It doesn't say if they are originals or not) -- personally I want the first one!

Darling (1965)


On a quest to watch every Dirk Bogarde film at my disposal, I realized that I had recorded the film "Darling" in Februrary during 31 Days of Oscar. I'm a fan of Julie Christie, and she won the Oscar as best actress of 1965 for her performance in this film, the same year that she starred as Lara in one of my favorite epics, Doctor Zhivago.

As further evidence of my complete ignorance as to who Dirk Bogarde was, I chose Laurence Harvey as the co-star when scribbling down the stars of the film on my DVD. I am not a big Laurence Harvey fan (I am dreadfully sorry if anyone is a fan! Please don't hate me!) but I apparently thought he was more important than Dirk.

I can't really put into words just how much I liked Dirk Bogarde in So Long at the Fair -- there was really something about him that said "Kate, I am going to be one of your favorite actors in about a week's time. Really, I am!" I just knew from watching that one picture that I would enjoy anything with the name Dirk Bogarde above the title. Yesterday I spent (some would say wasted..) the better part of my day searching for Dirk Bogarde movies on Amazon, Ebay and YouTube. If you're as interested as I am in Dirk, you'll want to check out this great link that I received in an email about my previous Dirk Bogarde post -- Click here to visit the official Dick Bogarde site, which contains so much information you won't know what to do with yourself! The audio from an album he recorded in the 60's, illustrations and watercolors (he was a great artist!) anecdotes about his films and loads of fun stuff to sift through.

I capped off my day (albeit at 2:30AM!!!) with Darling. Robert Osborne introduced the film by saying that it portrayed the characters with such detail you'd almost think this was a documentary, not a fictional story. And he was completely right. Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde gave such depth to their characters, I was actually starting to believe that they were real.

The film is about a young married woman (Diana, or "Darling") who falls in love with a slightly older married man. (Dirk Bogarde as Robert) Diana is superficial, young and slightly kooky while Robert is fun, intellectual and painfully handsome. (Sorry, I had to say it again.) Also, I was literally turning green with envy over how many books he had. I'm a sucker for a big library.

All of the advertisements and reviews I read before seeing the film seemed to indicate that this was a film very similar to Barbara Stanwyck's Baby Face. An unscrupulous woman who will bed any man if it gets her more fame or more money. But I think this is a really shallow interpretation of the film -- Julie Christie's character was actually a lot deeper than you would think. Her jumps from man to man aren't rooted in an insatiable hunger for power but in an insatiable hunger for happiness. Her quest for serenity with life takes her through two marriages and two beaus. One of those beaus, unfortunately, is Laurence Harvey.

All of the scenes with Harvey were a little too much for me, and seemed kind of out of place. At first he seems like a narcissistic cad with a relatively boring, square life. The next thing you know he's taking Julie Christie to a strange 1960's style party in Paris where really, really bizarre things happen. I don't even know how to describe them! I'm not opposed to swingin' 60's scenes in the movies, but up until this point the film had seemed to me to be a very deep character study, with amazing insight into human behavior and love.

Or maybe I was just upset that Dirk Bogarde wasn't onscreen as much at this point....

Anyway, despite the little segue into the psychedelic Paris of the sixties, I ended up enjoying the film immensely. In fact, I think it's one of my favorite movies now. I swear, Dirk Bogarde's character will just break your heart in pieces. And, despite what any of the reviews may lead you to believe, your heart will ache for Julie Christie's character, too.

There were just too many things about this film that I loved to list them all. The film also dealt brilliantly with the hypocrisies of the idle rich, the definition of what true happiness really is, sacrifice, and the public misconceptions about celebrity.

I highly recommend seeing it -- I do think it's on DVD (hint hint!) As for me, I'm going to go add some Dirk Bogarde movies to my Amazon cart and hope they get here very quickly. Move over grapefruit juice, I've got a new obsession!



8.24.2009

Wait... YOU are Dirk Bogarde?!


I don't know about you, but there is a certain type of actor that I don't like. For you it might be any actor who played in 1940's swashbucklers, or 1960's spy movies. For me, it's any actor who played in a B-movie crime film from the 1950's. Edmund O'Brien personified this whole genre of acting to me. They are typically heavy-set, sweaty men with slicked-back hair and oversize shoulder pads. (Before Edmund O'Brien fans jump down my throat, I'd like to point out that I think his performance in The Barefoot Contessa was exceptional -- he is fantastic as a character actor, but a romantic leading man he was not.)

So two weeks ago when I saw that Dirk Bogarde was going to be the star of the day during TCM's Summer Under the Stars, I realized I'd have to find an alternative channel to watch... Dirk Bogarde was just another 1950's American B-movie crime film star. Big shoulderpads and lousy acting was not what I was in the mood for.

Whoa! Hold the phone!! THIS is Dirk Bogarde?!?!?!



What the heck was I thinking?!

Dirk Bogarde is NOT the Edmund O'Brien type. In fact, he's the complete opposite. Dashing, handsome and oh-so-British. Unfortunately, I avoided TCM almost all day before I finally consented to watch "So Long at the Fair" around 6pm. Imagine my surprise when Dirk Bogarde finally showed up onscreen! Oh, what I had missed all day!!

As you can probably already tell by my devotion to John Mills, Trevor Howard and Alastair Sim, I have quite a soft spot in my heart for British actors. Now please add Dirk Bogarde to this list, and move him to the top, pronto!

Since I missed out on Dirk Bogarde day, I've added his movies to my Netflix queue (a pitiful amount are on DVD in America, by the way) and signed up for TCM reminders for the few films of his they are showing in the next four months.

I can't really go into a depth about how great of an actor Dirk Bogarde is, because as of yet I've only seen him in one film. But what I CAN say is that any time you have a preconceived notion about an actor or actress, give them a shot before you rule out their films for good. It may just turn out that the sweaty, greasy lug is actually quite the debonair bloke!