9.27.2009

Esther Waters (1948)


Esther Waters (1948) is a film in the tradition of Madame X, The Secret of Madame Blanche and The Sin of Madelon Claudet. Like these other films, the heroine of the story is a proper young woman who finds herself in a very improper situation. Stories about fallen women are often really fun to watch, especially when the woman becomes really spunky and witty to compensate for her misfortune. Unfortunately, in this film Esther continues to play the part of a deer-in-the-headlights innocent through all of her troubles, and her righteousness and piety began to wear on my nerves a little by the end of the movie.


In this story, Esther Waters (Kathleen Ryan) is a very religious maid embarking on work in a new household. Quickly she learns that the horses in the stables are being bred for racing (betting!! the horror!!), and the maids she has to associate with like to read salacious literature aloud in their spare time. Disgusted by the sinful activities around her, she befriends her employer's wife, who is also deeply religious and advises Esther to accept the sins of others as long as she remains good herself.

She also befriends stable groom William Latch (Dirk Bogarde in one of his first film roles) an ambitious young man whose family used to own the land he now works on before his father gambled away their capital. Despite the misfortune that had befallen his family before, Latch believes he is very lucky. He plans to win enough money betting on the horses to eventually buy a pub, become a bookie and earn back his family's land.


After returning from a very successful day at the races, the employers throw a massive party to celebrate. William Latch takes Esther as his date, and the moonlight, fireworks and romantic canoe ride on the lake all swell to make Esther completely forget what a rigid moralist she is.


I think you know where this is going by now. Our heroine Esther is now with child, but every time she tries to tell Latch, something gets in the way. Have you ever noticed how often this happens in movies?

Jane: "Tom, I have to tell you something. It's very important."
Tom: "Yes, Jane, what is it?"
Jane: "You might not be very happy about it."
Tom: "What is it?"
DOORBELL

Tom: "I don't think you'd like the real me."
Jane: "What do you mean, the real me?"
Tom: "Well, I'm not who you think I am. I'm.."
FIRE!!

Jane: "Can I come over? I have to tell you something."
Tom: "Can you just tell me over the phone?"
Jane: "No. I have to tell you in person. It's important."
TOM'S FRIEND ALREADY KNOWS AND TELLS HIM BEFORE JANE GETS THERE.

Anyway, back to the movie... Latch runs off with another woman because he doesn't know that poor Esther is in a family way. This leaves her all alone in the world with their child. She is now faced with the consequences of being a poverty stricken unwed mother.


I won't spoil the rest of the movie, except to say that Dirk Bogarde shows up again after about six years have passed. To show that a great length of time has passed, this film utilizes another annoying plot trick. Despite the fact that Esther looks exactly the same as she did the last time they met, Mr. Latch has really grown up! I mean, he has a mustache!

I can't even begin to count how many films there are in which men grow mustaches to show that time has passed! I think a simple "six years later" title card would suffice -- and that would have left Dirk Bogarde's face looking ridiculously handsome instead of ridiculous. His angular, boyish features just don't mesh well with a bushy mustache.


9.16.2009

The Singer Not the Song (1961)



eh-hem. John Mills AND Dirk Bogarde in one film. JACKPOT!!

In The Singer not the Song, John Mills plays a Catholic priest who arrives in a small Mexican village to take over for the retiring priest. The village is controlled by Anacleto, the town's bad boy played by a leather-clad Dirk Bogarde.


Dirk Bogarde is well known for acting in daring movies, such as Victim - another movie he made the same year as this one, which dealt with homosexuality and actually paved the way for archaic homophobic laws in England to be repealed. This movie deals with perhaps an even touchier subject: atheism. I can't actually recall ever seeing a movie which dealt with this subject before. It's a very taboo topic, even now. While we have quite a few openly gay politicians, there is only one openly atheist politician in the whole country. So for Dirk Bogarde and John Mills to star in a film that dealt frankly with athiesm is, to me at least, as daring as it was for Dirk to star in Victim.

The film is groundbreaking, but it's not entirely without convention. John Mills, as the priest, is still the good man. Dirk Bogarde, as the atheist, is still the bad man. But both actors gave performances that made the one dimensional good vs. evil characters more nuanced. The priest has to fight with his inner demons to remain a chaste, pure man. The atheist who cannot trust anyone places his trust in a man of the cloth.

I think that whether you are an atheist or a devout Christian, you will see your own beliefs reinforced in this film. The film doesn't condemn atheism (this actually took me completely by surprise. I was expecting Anacleto to fall down on his knees, repent, and become a monk by the end of the movie -- something that would be typical in most films from this era) but it also doesn't comdemn Christianity. It forces nothing down your throat, just leaves the matter up in the air for you to decide.

In all honesty, I doubt this film would be released in America today, despite the fact that its message about religion is one of ambiguity not condemnation. I read recently that American theaters won't be distributing a new movie about the life of Charles Darwin for fear of protests. Certainly if a film about evolution (a subject that is discussed in science classrooms across the country) can't make it into theathers, I highly doubt a movie about atheism would!

The one funny thing about the film is that, like in The Spanish Gardener, almost all of the Mexican characters are British. This didn't bother me so much, though, as the fact that the one girl in the story (whose parents are both British and who grew up in Mexico) speaks with a French accent! Where did that come from?!

Well if I didn't scare you away from watching the movie, you can view it on YouTube here. Really, I highly recommend it -- if only to see Dirk Bogarde looking so dashing in his villanous bandit costumes :)

Oh! One more thing... yesterday I found that one of the movies I reviewed recently, Cast a Dark Shadow, is available in full on YouTube! It was a really great film, but not available on DVD. So if you have some free time you should definitely watch it!








9.14.2009

The Woman in Question (1950)


You have to go out of your way a little to see this film -- it's available on VHS here and on DVD here. But it's well worth it, trust me!

The Woman in Question begins with a little boy finding a dead body in an apartment. This triggers a series of interviews and flashbacks in which each of the suspects in the murder are interviewed and give their own account of what REALLY happened. It reminded me a lot of Rashomon, which also came out in 1950.

But this movie was so darn clever, I think it even out-does Rashomon. In each flashback, the deceased woman, Jean Kent, is portrayed in whatever light the suspect saw her. Subsequently, this film has her playing a darling devoted wife with an upper crust British accent, a loose, scruffy fortune teller with a heavy cockney accent, and the most lovely, beautiful, gentle woman in the universe. All seen through the eyes of the people who might have killed her.



SUSPECT #1: Mrs. Finch (Hermione Baddeley)

Relation to the deceased: House maid and mother of the little boy who finds the body
Opinion of the deceased: Glamorous, giving and kind
Motive: I'm not actually sure she has one. Though they sort of treat her as a suspect in the film, I think her purpose is more to advance the story.

I LOVED this character. Hermione Baddeley has to be one of the best British character actors ever. In the beginning, the police are trying to question her son, who found the body. She's hilarious as a doting mother who answers every question before her son gets the chance. She's also a typical busybody who has an opinion about everything and everyone.


SUSPECT #2: Catherine Taylor (Susan Shaw)

Relation to the deceased: Sister, and potentially the lover of the dead woman's husband!
Opinion of the deceased: a wench with no respect for her sick husband
Motive: Her sister has tried to prevent her marriage to Bob Baker (aka. Suspect #3!)

Susan Shaw had two characters to play: the catty, overly-made-up slutty sister in Mrs. Finch's account, and the beautiful, delicate lady in Bob Baker's account.


SUSPECT #3: Bob Baker (Dirk Bogarde)

Relation to the deceased: Possibly a former flame, definitely a former vaudeville partner and Catherine's fiance
Opinion of the deceased: Nice at first, but then she becomes a meddling horror!
Motive: The deceased was trying to prevent his marriage to Catherine.

When Dirk Bogarde first entered the film (quite a way in, unfortunately) he had the strangest accent... I couldn't actually tell what he was trying to do until someone mentioned that he was an American! (Hence that all-American name Bob Baker, right?) It must be a hard accent to master because poor Dirk definitely didn't sound American. He'd get a word right every once in a while but the British accent just kept slipping back in. I'm not sure if this was just written into the script to account for his trouble with our dialect, but he confesses to his fiance that he was actually born in Liverpool and just made up the whole American thing for his stage act.

Despite my initial confusion about his accent, he played the part brilliantly as always. His character shows up in four of the different accounts and so he also had to play four different versions of one character. My favorite was Mrs. Finch's account, in which he is a cowboy-hat-wearing American (ha!) cad.



SUSPECT #4: Albert Pollard (Charles Victor)

Relation to the deceased: A friend who owns the pet shop where she gets her parrot and fixes up anything that needs fixing around the house.
Opinion of the deceased: The most lovely, beautiful creature that ever walked on this earth.
Motive: Perhaps she didn't love him back...

Mr. Pollard was such a sweet little man. In one scene, Mrs. Finch gets flustered when Catherine and Bob angrily come busting into the house to see Jean Kent. She runs over to Mr. Pollard to get him to kick them out, and he just stands there, sheepishly, until they leave. No courage at all. But! In Mr. Pollards account, he storms into the house and demands that Catherine and Bob leave PRONTO! It was so cute.


SUSPECT #5: Michael Murray (John McCallum)

Relation to the deceased: Boyfriend/Fiance
Opinion of the deceased: a loving, devoted fiance... until he finds her with another man!!
Motive: He found her with another man!!

This is the only character that is one dimensional -- he is portrayed only in his own recollections, nobody elses. He does a splendid job, though, and is cute as a burly Irish sailor.

***

The Deceased Woman


Jean Kent is brilliant in this film. She plays five different versions of one single woman, each of them completely unique. It's amazing how she played the same character from five totally different perspectives- and each incredibly convincing. The most amazing thing about this is that her appearance changes in each flashback as well.


in Mrs. Finch's account, as the saintly tenant


in Catherine's account, as the scummy wench


in Bob Baker's account, as the seductive business partner


in Mr. Pollard's account, a vision of loveliness


in Michael Murray's account, perhaps the most
normal, down-to-earth version of the bunch.

9.10.2009

The Servant (1963)


Last night I watched "The Servant" (1963) starring Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles. This is one of those films that leaves you staring at your television, mouth agape, wondering what the heck you just saw. It is eerie, uncomfortable, unsettling, disturbing and FANTASTIC.

The movie begins with an unconventional job interview -- Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) arrives to find his potential employer (James Fox) passed out drunk on the floor. Now, Barrett is quite the interesting fellow -- he is at once reserved, shy and deferential and cocky, domineering and forward. The character is so incredibly complicated it's no wonder that Dirk Bogarde won the BAFTA film award as best actor for his performance.

The film is really presented in two parts. The first half is sort of coy -- you get an idea of what's going on in the plot, but it isn't entirely clear, and it isn't especially sinister. Then the second half just hits you like a ton of bricks! It's dark, heavy and definitely not coy.

One of my favorite things about the movie was the use of reflections -- I didn't take screenshots of all of them (there were too many!) but my favorites included this fish-eye mirror in the drawing room. It was the perfect way to depict the twisted, fun-house kind of shennanigans going on inside this house.

This wasn't my favorite Dirk Bogarde film (that honor still belongs to Darling, though this came very close) but I think it was my favorite performance. His character doesn't evolve in the film, it is revealed. In the beginning, Barrett is a devoted manservant, eager to cook meals and carry trays. But little by little he becomes a bit bossy. The walls should have red and fushia wallpaper. The master shouldn't have fresh flowers in his bedroom. He doesn't approve of new cushions for the couch. And you know, he really could use a maid to help him out around the house -- and his sister is just the girl for the job.

As the film progresses, Barrett gets stronger and stronger while James Fox's character gets wearker and weaker. By the end of the film, Barrett has shown his real character, a far cry from the meek, eager servant we met at the beginning. Really, the transition is stunning. Furthermore, it is amazing that Dirk Bogarde really does not have that much dialogue or screentime at the beginning of the film. Yet whether he is physically on camera, or simply lingering in the thoughts of the other characters onscreen, his character is a constant presence in the movie.

Last year I saw an interview with Harold Pinter on Charlie Rose (re-aired after he passed away) and was very enchanted with him -- I've wanted to watch one of his plays or films ever since, and I'm very happy that this was the first one I got to see. He wrote the adapted screenplay for the film, and if this is any indication of his style I am just itching to see more! Pinter also wrote Accident (which, like The Servant, also stars Dirk Bogarde and was directed by Joseph Losey) so I can't wait to see that now!

A lot of movies can make you cry, laugh or smile gleefully at the end. But it takes a really special film to leave you staring at your television, mouth agape, wondering what the heck just happened.







Can I just say, I want to BE Sarah Miles. Really.



9.08.2009

A 22 year old turns into a 1958 teeny bopper...

When I'm at the grocery store, I always look laughingly at the teeny bopper magazines on the newsstands. I wouldn't buy one of those if it was the last thing on earth to look at. I cringe at the thought of thumbing through People magazine, or keeping up with the current celebrity gossip...

HOWEVER...

Give me a 1958 copy of a teeny bopper magazine and I turn into just as much of a drooling fan-girl as a modern teenager does with a brand spanking new copy of OK! (Which, I guess, is kind of sad because I'm a few years removed from being a teen now...)

Anyway.. I'm sure by now you've become acquainted with my new obsession with Dirk Bogarde. On my quest to find his DVDs, I came across a 1958 copy of "All About Dirk Bogarde" on ebay. It's a tiny little fan magazine (obviously made for his swooning bobby-soxer fans) published at the height of his matinee idol days. Seeing as how this is not available on amazon, or anywhere else on ebay, how on earth could I pass it up for only 8 pounds?! (Yup, I bought it from England!)

It finally arrived today and I just couldn't contain my excitement. I scanned almost every single image in the magazine! Here are a few of my favorites:





(You can view the rest -- all 39 of them -- in my flickr account)

I had an art show in New York this weekend (a grueling show, for which I had to get up at 4am for three consecutive days) so I decided to take a little mini-vacation this week. I can't afford to go anywhere, so I'm going to stay in and watch a bunch of movies! I have almost ten Dirk Bogarde films to see now (thanks to Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and Casey!) plus I have what seems like a million recorded DVDs that I haven't finalized since Feburary, which I really have to catch up on!

I know you're all probably sick of this by now, but I'll probably write about the Dirk Bogarde films I watch... I haven't really gotten myself hooked on any one actor since Dana Andrews about three years ago. Speaking of Dana Andrews (who for the time being will belong solely to Millie. Your welcome.) two of his films are on TCM in the next week or so, and both of them are films I've never seen! Very exciting!!

Okay well sorry about this super-blabbering post but, like I said, I got up at 4am for three days in a row and I'm still not really lucid. Better go get some grapefruit juice...