Top of the World: Celebrating Bernard Herrmann with 10 Wonderful Scores!

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Yesterday, the famous movie music composer Bernard Herrmann would have been 106 years old. He did not only share his brilliance in his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, but in all the movie scores he composed. It’s for that reason that he is a favourite among many cinephiles. He certainly was among those movie composers who perfectly knew how to musically illustrate the atmosphere of a film.

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I didn’t have time to “celebrate” him yesterday as I was working, but I thought I should honour him today with one of my traditional top lists! So, let me introduce you my 10 most favourite Bernard Herrmann scores! Of course, that was a most difficult exercise as he was a master of music. I had to change the order of my top many times.

Before continuing, remember that these are my personal favourite ones, so it’s purely subjective. You obviously can’t contest my personal tastes. 😉

Ok, here we go!

10. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

Ah! How can we forget this haunting music regrouping strings only?! The shower scene is not the most “melodious” Bernard Hermann moment, but probably the one people will remember the most.

9. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

As much as I’m not THAT much a fan of this film (despite the fact that it is considered the best movie of all times and blablabla), there are TWO things that I love enormously about it, one of them being the music (the other one being Joseph Cotten). I love how it is at the time very sinister or very joyful. Typical Herrmann!

 

8.The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956)

My favourite Hitchcock’s film! And certainly one of my favourite Bernard Herrmann scores! It’s so orchestral, I love it! You unfortunately won’t hear it in this clip, but, during the film, there are some notes that remind us a lot of Vertigo‘s score that Herrmann will compose two years later. Of course, we all remember Herrmann’s cameo in the film! 🙂

 

7. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)

Without being Hitchcock’s best film, one can’t deny that this is among Herrmann’s best scores! Actually, it might be the best thing about this film. I absolutely love it.

 

6. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

When those notes start, you know you are in for something special! Somehow, I can always see Carlotta Valdes’s portrait when I hear this music or the famous dream sequence. A team work between Hitchcock and Hermann always creates prodigies! Another film that is considered “the best of all times” and, once again, Bernard Herrmann had the chance to be part of the team!

 

5. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

As far as I can remember, North by Northwest has always been one of my very favourite music scores. It succeeds to so perfectly capture the attention of the viewers. Once again, one can perfectly visualize the film in his/her head while listening to this GREAT score!

 

4. Jane Eyre (Robert Stevenson, 1944)

I must be honest, I didn’t become familiar with that score until… well today. The reason is that I’ve seen the movie only once and quite a long time ago, so let’s say the music was not necessarily fresh in my memory! But when I was re-listening to some of the Herrmann scores, I discovered how great it was! I just can’t believe I haven’t took the time to listen to it more carefully before. It’s just ace! Somehow, I can visualize the movie in my head when I listen to it. It truly makes me want to watch it again! 4m14 – 4m30: this moment is absolutely terrifying, but great!

 

3. The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951)

That is THE sound of science-fiction! My favourite sci-fi film and very probably my favourite music score for a sci-fi film. In this score, we can hear both acoustic and electronic instruments, including two Theremins, which create those typical sounds from outer space.

 

2. Obsession (Brian de Palma, 1976)

It goes without saying, I am obsessed with this film score (ouuuu!). It’s just spellbinding. I especially love the first minutes of it. I can always see the scene where Cliff Robertson throws the suitcase with the money on the street or that unforgettable final scene… For a movie that is very similar to Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann was of course the ultimate choice for the music!

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  1. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Ah, the last and ultimate Bernard Herrman’s score! From Citizen Kane (his first movie music score) to Taxi Driver (his last), he proved to be an absolute musical master. Taxi Driver‘s music is so mesmerizing and fits perfectly the dark New-Yorkian atmosphere of the film. It sort of makes me want to take saxophone lessons!

Well, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed! Of course, don’t hesitate to share your personal favourites in the comment section!

Cheers to Herrmann!

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #25: Where the Boys Are (1960)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-fifth and, finally, last (!) review was for the 1960s classic Where the Boys Are directed by Henry Levin. Enjoy!

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Where the Boys Are, the 1960’s film by Henry Levin, is the ultimate definition of the teen movie, not simply because the main characters are teenagers, but for the way the film is developed. Where the Boys Are is not Rebel Without a Cause, but it’s not Gidget either. It’s the right equilibrium presenting the fun of being a teenager (led by a bunch of colorful characters) and the more serious matters that come with growing up.

In this coming of age story, four girls from a Midwestern university, Merritt (Dolores Hart), Tuggle (Paula Prentiss), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and Angie (Connie Francis), are going to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for their spring vacation. They don’t only hope to find the sun that has been absent in the snowstorm of their university town, but also to meet some nice boys. In this sunny place various romances, adventures and misadventures arise to change the girls’ lives forever.

For someone who lives up north like the four girls in the movie, Where the Boys Are is the kind of film that makes one regret not following their lead and going south for a celebration under the sun. The weather can almost be felt through the screen, from the furious snowstorm that gives poor Merritt a cold, to the Floridian heat where the students spend their days in bathing suits.

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During the opening credits, the film’s theme song is sung by Connie Francis. The style of the song perfectly reflects the ambiance of the film, as well as the ’60s in general. Francis’s voice is heard one more time when she sings Turn on the Sunshine in order to seduce Basil (Frank Gorshin), an eccentric jazz musician. With her smile and joie de vivre, Connie Francis illuminates the screen and proves her talents both as a singer and sympathetic actress.

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Dolores Hart plays the lead. Among all her films, Where the Boys Are is often cited as a favorite among her fans. Her dynamism and assurance as Merritt certainly impresses the spectators. Hart seems sure of what she is doing and gives her character the perfect emotions depending on the situation. She makes people laugh or cry, but always at the right moment. The actress is today known as Mother Dolores Hart despite a promising start in the movie industry. She and George Hamilton as Ryder Smith are a dream couple.

Yvette Mimieux was only 19 when the film was made and embodies its innocence, and the loss of it. Her angelic face and lovely mannerisms make the audience rapidly fond of her.

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Where the Boys Are was Paula Prentiss’s debut. The humor of this tall girl is delicious, but like the other actresses, she demonstrates a great sensibility. The loving and friendly team she makes with Jim Hutton, as TV, might be the one people appreciate the most. The comic and goofy guy certainly seems to be the perfect match for her and Jim Hutton is memorable in the role.

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Kudos also have to be given to Frank Gorshin whom, as always, doesn’t fail to amuse with his mimics portraying a, well, unique character.

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Where the Boys Are deals with the theme of sexuality, difficult particularity because during the Production Code era, such themes were put aside for censorship matters, creating a certain unreality in some movies. Although the code was still in force until 1966, the use of sexuality in movies was beginning to gradually emerge. Sexuality in Where the Boys Are isn’t used explicitly, but more as an educational tool that perfectly suits the coming of age story. The subject is treated as something that is inevitably part of life. Interestingly, the film was one of the first teen movies to deal with such material and the relationship teenagers have with it. The subject is mostly used in the dramatic parts of the film.

Despite the difficult subject matter, Where the Boys Are is filled with unforgettable hilarious moments, such as the scene where the whole gang is trapped in a giant aquarium, or each time TV makes an entrance with a peculiar rig-out.

One has to understand that, despite being a comedy and a Hollywood film, Where the Boys Are contains its share of realism. The film is developed in a way to show people that life contains its ups and down. But, even when living with difficult moments, the most important element is to be surrounded by loving people and Where the Boys Are proves the beautiful value of friendship.

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The film is a visually agreeable one to watch as its Metrocolor cinematography creates an atmosphere of joy and reflects the fun that teenagers hope to reach during this sweet and short spring vacation.

On its release, Where the Boys Are was a financial success and won the Laurel Award for Best Comedy and Best Comedy Actress for Paula Prentiss.

Where the Boys Are is a film full of truth that’s ahead of its time, but is also intended to make one feel pleasant. It’s one of those films made especially for teens that understands them so well and is not to be missed.

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #24 Dames (1934)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-fourth review was for the 1934s classic Dames directed by Ray Enright and Busby Berkeley. Enjoy!

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Musicals from the 1930s are some of the most significant ones to see. Why? Because they initiated the genre into the world of cinema. The first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, was released in 1927, but the first all-talking, all singing picture was The Broadway Melody (1929), which won an Academy Award for Best Picture. Early Hollywood musicals were mainly backstage musicals, films about the creation of a musical review. A key figure of those films is Busby Berkeley, one of the most inventive choreographers in movie history and a Berkeley film nobody should miss is 1934’s Dames.

Dames creates opposition between the snobbish high society and the creative stage world. Millionaire Ezra Ounce (Hugh Herbert) believes in good American morals and visits his cousin Matilda Hemingway (ZaSu Pitts) and her husband Horace (Guy Kibbee) who lives in New-York City. Ezra has decided to will an important part of his fortune to the family, but he has to make sure they are morally good according to his principles.

Their daughter Barbara (Ruby Keeler) isn’t much thrilled by the idea as cousin Ezra decides to disinherit her love interest and 13th cousin Jimmy Higgens (Dick Powell). Ezra doesn’t approve of Higgens’ “sinful” artistic career. Ruby, to her parent’s despair, also wishes to have a career in the musical world as a dancer. Meanwhile, Horace has to deal with Mabel (Joan Blondell), a showgirl, who might endanger his status as a good moral man.

As we are not immediately introduced to Berkeley’s choreography or a song at the beginning of the film, what first grabs our attention is its hilarity. Dames isn’t only a musical, it’s a musical comedy. The film contains a bunch of dynamic comic situations that keep the spectator’s interest, such as the first scene where Horace goes to meet Ezra in his office for an appointment. He passes through several people and security measures to finally get to him. We then see during his last appointment he’s stayed only a few minutes.

Comedies in the ’30s have a touch of spontaneous humor that makes the film pleasant to watch, no matter what.

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In the same vein, the characters in Dames are well-balanced and portrayed in a way to amuse us. Some are unwittingly funny and others are on purpose which creates an interesting opposition and the serious aspects of the film are not to be taken to the first degree. As a matter of fact, they lose all credibility, in a good way.

The force of Dames‘ casting mainly resides in the supporting actors. While Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are lovely together and easily win our sympathy, the film wouldn’t have been the same without ZaSu Pitts, Guy Kibbee, Joan Blondell, Hugh Herbert and Arthur Vinton, who plays cousin Ezra’s bodyguard. He’s always sleeping, and more than ready to fire his gun (never on someone) if he is called to duty. He is unforgettable and with his height and clumsy manners he remains one of the most underappreciated performers of the lot.

ZaSu Pitts, the queen of classic character actresses, chooses the perfect mannerisms to suit her character, a woman who worries too much. Joan Blondell, with her “pep” and self-assurance, is the perfect pre-Code figure. Guy Kibbee knows how to choose the right facial expressions and tone, most of the time a confused one, to match his character as a man who deals with several problems. Finally, Hugh Herbert, despite playing a serious character, ends up being a clown, initiated by unstoppable hiccups. It’s frankly hard to say who is Dames’ best character because they all have their own distinct personality and the actors who portray them do a highly convincing job.

Dames‘ songs are lovely and, being part of a single show, they fit well together, but might not be the most memorable ones of the 1930s. Dames’ real artistic creativity resides in Busby Berkeley’s choreographies, the most impressive being the one created for the songs “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the title number. The choreographer creates spectacular kaleidoscopes with the dancers, filmed in a bird’s eyes point of view, create a better visual effect. Each part of a musical number is introduced in a way that leaves us speechless.

The illusions are amazing and because of that Dames is a film full of surprises. Try to see Dames sequence on a big screen. The choreography is a real masterpiece and should be praised for their glamour, due to the beautiful, luminous faces of the dancers, their radiant smiles, and beautiful eyes, as well as Orry-Kelly’s lightweight costumes.

Dames is a film that doesn’t need to be watched, but needs to be lived. Let yourself be entertained by the numerous gags and mesmerized by its visual musicality.

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #23: The Woman in the Window (1944)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-third review was for the 1944s classic The Woman in the Window directed by Fritz Lang. Enjoy!

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The work of author-director Fritz Lang has an established notoriety among cinephiles, particularly for his innovative masterpieces, Metropolis and M. One most not forget that the German director also had an important career in the United States in the ’40s and ’50s, and his American films are now considered Hollywood classics, among them his collaborations with Joan Bennett. These films show Bennett in different kinds of essences, but they all complete each other. Where does a beginner start? The Woman in the Window is a good option, with all the perfect ingredients of their collaborations added into a film noir aesthetic and starring two other Lang actors: Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea.

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The Woman in the Window was released in 1944, based on the novel Once off Guard by J. H. Wallis. The main character is criminology professor Richard Wanley (Robinson) who has always been fascinated by the portrait of a beautiful young lady exposed in a storefront window. One evening, after spending time with his friends at the club, he goes to observe the portrait again and is surprised by the lady herself (Joan Bennett). They have a drink and the lady, whose name is Alice Reed, takes him to her home to show him other sketches by the painter who made her portrait.

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While they are casually talking, Alice’s rich lover, known by her as Frank Howard (Arthur Loft), interrupts and is not happy to see her in the company of another man. Blind with jealousy, he fights with Wanley and in self-defense Wanley kills Howard with a pair of scissors. Instead of calling the police, Richard decides to hide the body in a forest. He and Alice make sure no detail is left to let the police. The following day, Richard’s friend district attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) shares with him information about the mysterious disappearance of a rich man by the name of Claude Mazard. Richard quickly makes the connection and understands that Claude Mazard and Frank Howard are the same person. The body is soon found by a boy scout and the investigation begins. The two “partners in crimes”, Richard and Alice, have to hold their breath and face this problematic situation the best they can.

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The Woman in the Window has one of the most mysterious and beautiful character entrances in classic film history. While Richard observes Alice Reed’s portrait, her face slowly begins to appear in the window’s reflection, mesmerizing Richard and the audience. Joan Bennett has this mysterious dark look (and voice) that make her perfectly suitable for Fritz Lang’s noirs. We never truly say if Alice Reed is good or bad, and this ambiguity is created by the enigmatic aura around her. She can choose whether to remain Richard’s partner in crime or let him down.

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After Alice’s unforgettable entrance, she explains to Richard how she likes to observe people who admire her portrait:

Alice Reed: Well, there are two general reactions. One is a kind of solemn stare for the painting.

Richard Wanley: And the other?

Alice Reed: The other is a long, low whistle.

Richard Wanley: What was mine?

Alice Reed: I’m not sure. But I suspect that in another moment or two you might have given a long, low, solemn whistle.

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Edward G. Robinson is shown in a different light compared to his roles in early gangster films. His role is similar to the one in Scarlet Street: an ordinary man involved in a lot of complications. This proves his versatility and that the man could play sensible characters. There is a lot of wisdom in Richard despite all that happens to him and he knows how to keep cool.

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The work of cinematographer Milton R. Krasner on The Woman in the Window is worth praising. Creating interesting nightlife scenes is often expected of film noirs and this film isn’t an exception. Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson perfectly fit in this ambiance. The interior and daytime scenes are filmed with a lot of class and create an interesting contrast between the darkness of the night and the clarity of day. Krasner also worked on Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street and many other notorious classics.

 

Fashion fans will also be delighted by the work of Muriel King, designer of Joan Bennett’s gowns. All are faithful to the high society fashion of the ’40s and, once again, add a lot of visual beauty to the film. King manages to accentuate Joan’s beauty with both dark and light fabrics.

 

The Woman in the Window is a perfect film for those who love to see mysteries being solved. It remains fascinating, but also for the way the course of events themselves is developed. The spectator is kept at the edge of his seat from beginning till end. Fritz Lang was a master of noir, as he also proved with The Blue Gardenia in 1953 and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt in 1956.

All of Bennett and Lang’s films are one of a kind and are all worth watching, but The Woman in the Window is a favorite. Will it be the case for you?

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ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #22: Blackboard Jungle (1955)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My twenty-second review was for the 1955s classic Blackboard Jungle directed by Richard Brooks. Enjoy!

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The ’50s were marked by the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll, a musical genre that scandalized elders and delighted youngsters. In the world of cinema, Blackboard Jungle, a Richard Brooks picture released in 1955, played an important role in this musical history, becoming the first film to feature rock ‘n’ roll music with the hit “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. The ’50s are also often considered the golden age of teen movies and though many mention Rebel without A Cause or The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle is one you shouldn’t neglect.

Blackboard Jungle takes place at North Manual Trades High School in a poor New York neighborhood. Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) is the new English teacher. He has been told how most of the students are hard to handle and that most of them are hopeless cases. But, in Richard’s opinion, something can be done. There must be a way to make them want to learn while being entertained. The task won’t be an easy one. Richard has to face tough behaviors and rebellion, especially from Artie West (Vic Morrow). He finds an ally in Gregory Miller (Sidney Poitier), but has a hard time figuring if he is a recommendable student or not.

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These are the main lines of Blackboard Jungle, but more is going on, including problems in Richard and his wife Anne’s (Anne Francis) personal life, caused by the problematic school students.

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Blackboard Jungle is based on a novel by Evan Hunter which was based on Hunter’s own experiences as a schoolteacher in a tough school of the South Bronx.

For those unfamiliar with the work of underrated actor Glenn Ford, Blackboard Jungle is a good one to start with. Ford plays a sensible man who provides a range of emotions well chosen according to how the story evolves. When he arrives at the school, it’s easy to notice he’s one coming there to do good. He never overacts and shares a contagious and beautiful complicity with the charming Anne Francis who plays his wife, Anne.

The film is also an occasion to discover Sidney Poitier’s earliest film role. He hadn’t won his Oscar yet, but his thoughtful performance in Blackboard Jungle is proof he was on the right track. It is important to mention Poitier was one of the first African-American actors given important and significant roles. Among the other young actors in this film Vic Morrow, who plays Arnie West, does a credible and convincing job as the toughest student of Dadier’s group. Steve McQueen was considered for the role, but Morrow nailed the audition.

Let’s not forget Louis Calhern, who plays Jim Murdock, the history teacher. Calhern steals the show by simply being there. What an incredible actor he was! Richard Dadier is not the only new teacher at North Manual Trades High School. Joshua Edwards is the new mathematics teacher brilliantly played by Richard Kiley. Without revealing too much, Josh breaks our hearts. And finally, Lois Hammond is played by the beautiful Margaret Hayes. Even if her character has a crush on a married man (Dadier), Hayes manages to retain all the class she needs.

Director Richard Brooks was a prolific movie director and an excellent movie writer. Brooks wrote the screenplays of all his films, with a few exceptions. For Blackboard Jungle, he received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost it to Paddy Chayefsky for Marty. Brooks gives the best tone to the film through his adaptation and knew how to make the characters and story unfold in the right way.

Despite being a brilliant film, on its release Blackboard Jungle brought a lot of complications. To include a rock ‘n’ roll song in its opening and ending credits attracted the teens, but some screenings were victims of vandalism. We notice that “Rock around the Clock” is never fully heard and that’s mostly due to the fact that, in the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll was considered a bad influence (especially on youngsters).

Luckily, Blackboard Jungle is best remembered for the good values it presents. It’s a film that proves every human can change for the better and every human can help if he or she wants to. The film should also be praised for its anti-racism message embodied by Richard (Glenn Ford), Gregory (Sidney Poitier) and the school principal, Mr. Warneke (John Hoyt), perceived in some crucial dialogue. For example:

Richard Dadier: Now, you pick up that magazine, Belazi. Pick it up! I wanna get one thing very clear in this classroom. There’s not gonna be any name calling here. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Now you understand that? All of ya!

Pete V. Morales: I was just kidding.

Richard Dadier: Yeah, I know you’re just kidding. That’s how things start. Like a street fight. Somebody pushes somebody in fun. Somebody pushes back, and soon you got a street fight with no kidding. That’s the same way with name-calling. All right, West, look. You’re of Irish decent. So is Murphy over there. You call him a Mick. He calls you a Mick. Suppose Miller called you a Mick. Is that all right?

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For those who want to see a classic that had important cultural impact, Blackboard Jungle is a good option. It remains a timeless masterpiece as such situations still happen in today’s schools. There is much more to say, but to reveal too much could spoil the future viewers’ experience.
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