This weekend, my friend Michaela, blogger at Love Letters to Old Hollywood, is hosting her very first blogathon: The Vincente Minelli Blogathon! Minelli was well-known for his musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris or Gigi. I must admit, I really haven’t seen many of his movies, but my favourite is, without a doubt, Father of the Bride. Unlike the one I’ve previously mentioned, this one isn’t a Technicolor musical, but a simple black and white comedy.
This 1950s’ film stars Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett, Don Taylor, Billie Burke, Leo G. Carroll Moroni Olsen and even Russ Tamblyn in a small role. The story is very simple: Kay Banks (Taylor), the daughter of Ellie (Bennett) and Stanley (Tracy) Banks, wants to get married to Buckley Dunstan ( Don Taylor). However, her father can’t get the idea of “losing” a daughter and is not sure Buckley is the right man for her. But that is in vain, as a 250 persons wedding finally begins to be organized by him and his wife. The film is mostly about the wedding’s preparations and the wedding itself.
Father of the Bride is an easy-watching movie. It’s a perfect film to view with your family to simply share a good laugh and an agreeable moment. No stress here, and no boring moments. On its release, it was a commercial success. The film was also nominated for a Best Picture Award at the 1951’s Oscars. A remake has been made in 1991 with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton (and also a sequel), but I believe it’s not as good as the original one.
On my side, the main reason why I first decided to watch this film was because of Joan Bennett, and actress that I found most interesting and that I was beginning to discover. But of course, the idea that she was co-starring with Spencer Tracy and my twin Elizabeth Taylor was most appealing too! This was a very interesting Joan Bennett’s role for me to see as I was mostly used to her darker characters in Fritz Langs’ films or as the coquette Amy March in Little Women. But Joan Bennett proves that she can also be excellent as a simple family mother. She hasn’t lost her beauty and is radiant as always. There’s a lot of tenderness and warmth in her acting. This one remains simple, without any extravagances, but can still touch us. It was just the perfect dose for the type of character she had to play. Without any surprises, Spence Tracy first wanted Katharine Hepburn to play his wife, but as they were known as a too “romantic” couple, it seems they wouldn’t have been suitable as an ordinary married couple. (IMDB) I love Kate and Spencer duos, but I must admit it’s nice to see Spencer paired with other ladies! However, I don’t really agree with the reasons why Kate wasn’t cast in the role and I’m sure she would have done a fine job, just like Joan.
Liz Taylor couldn’t have been a better choice as Joan Bennett’s daughter. Physically, they share a certain resemblance. Both have those black hair and this delicate figure that makes them look like mysterious and fragile beauties. Interestingly, both actresses played the role of Amy March in cinematography adaptations of Little Women.(IMDB) For her role, Liz gave the right dose of innocence to a girl that is said to be very young to be married. At the time the film was made, Liz was only around 18, but she seems a bit older, and in a good way. She’s not just a teenage girl, but also a real lady full of elegance. Her acting game as Kay contains softness, but also with a living energy. Despite her young age and the fact that she’s a bit treated like a child by her fictional father, I think it’s interesting to mention that, in 1950, 6 weeks before the film’s premiere, Elizabeth got married for real and for the first time, to “Nicky” Conrad Hilton Jr.
Spencer Tracy plays the lead in this film and he’s just…perfect! Not only his acting, but also his narration. His voice tone is exactly right for the atmosphere of the film. I think the narrative moment I like the most is when he talks about Kay’s many boyfriends. Just cracks me up, especially when he starts with “Was it the one with the teeth?”
Spencer was one of those actors that didn’t have to do much to gain our sympathy. Some of his facial expressions, and that’s the case for any movie he’s in, simply worth a million. He also has a very paternal figure, which suits perfectly his role in Father of the Bride. What I enjoyed the most about his character in the film, is the fact that he’s always trying to be subtle, but he’s not. Think of this moment while he is looking to Buckley coming to their home, hidden behind the curtains. Simply hilarious! Even if Joan Bennett was not Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy makes a beautiful couple with her. As “normal middle-class parents” they were convincing enough. As for the role of the father, the fact that Stanley can’t get the idea of “losing” his girl was perfectly embodied by Spencer Tracy. He really makes us believe the attachment he has for his fictional daughter and shows a beautiful chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor. Spencer Tracy received an Oscar nomination for his performance.
Spencer Tracy as Stanley T. Banks
When I re-watched the film for the blogathon, I didn’t remember who played Kay’s fiancé, but when I saw Don Taylor’s, his face curiously rang a bell. From the film, of course, but I was sure I had seen him somewhere else. He plays William Holden’s friend in Stalag 17, so that’s probably the film I was probably thinking about (because I don’t think I’ve seen any other), but somehow he looks like another actor. I can’t say who! Anyway, if you have any ideas, please tell me. In an important supporting role, he does an appreciable job. He’s humble and doesn’t take too much place, which was perfect for his character. He might not be the most memorable one of the lot, but he shines in his own way.
This is the main quartet, but some other actors deserve honourable mentions such as Billie Burke, who plays Buckley’s mother. I had forgotten she was in the film, but when I saw her, I knew she would be a great support as she always is. Moroni Olsen who plays his husband is the perfect sympathetic fellow and encourages a smile on our face. Leo G. Carroll is often associated with Hitchcock’s, so it is nice to see him in a different kind of film! He gives the perfect touch of snobbism to his character.
With Father of the Bride, we have the proof that a movie doesn’t have to be based on something complicated to be good. Hey, it’s basically the story of a girl who prepares her wedding. Just a bit like 12 Angry Men, which is the story of 12 jurors who debates on the innocence of a boy condemn to death for murder. That goes without saying that the story contains surprises and an interesting development that makes it unique in its own genre. It is NOT just about wedding preparations, but also about family relationships. The fact that the whole thing is seen from the father’s point of view makes it very interesting too and different. It probably would have been something completely different if it would have been seen from Kay’s point of view for example. Of from Buckley’s point of view. Just imagine!
As a comedy, the film contains many moments of hilarity, but those are always added with beautiful tact so the film won’t lose its initial class. Father of the Bride is a refine comedy, which suits perfectly well to Liz Taylor, Joan Bennett, and Spencer Tracy. Could we say it’s a screwball comedy? This genre was mostly at its golden age in the 30’s and the early 40’s, but as it uses the theme of the wedding (an important theme in screwballs), we could say that it is a post-screwball comedy. It can also be the case because of its bright well-thought lines. The script, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on Edward Streeter’s novel of the same time, was nominated for an Oscar.
1- Ben Banks: Can’t be June. I’ve got my final. Why not May?
Ellie Banks: May’s too early.
Tommy Banks: July’s out. I’m going to camp.
Kay Banks: This isn’t a kids party. It’s my wedding and my friends.
2- Stanley T. Banks: No one paid any attention to the orchestra. Ellie could have saved that 85 bucks!
3- Stanley T. Banks: I would like to say a few words about weddings. I’ve just been through one. Not my own. My daughter’s. Someday in the far future I may be able to remember it with tender indulgence, but not now. I always used to think that marriages were a simple affair. Boy meets girl. Fall in love. They get married. Have babies. Eventually the babies grow up and meet other babies. They fall in love. Get married. Have babies. And so on and on and on. Looked at that way, it’s not only simple, it’s downright monotonous. But I was wrong. I figured without the wedding.
Apart from the good lines, the film is sprinkled with memorable moments. One of my favourite is when Stanley has prepared a ton of martini’s for the party, but everybody is ordering something else. Poor Mr. Banks! The meeting between Kay and Buckley’s parents is pretty delightful too, just like the wedding itself.These are just a few examples, so you’ll have to see the film to discover more of them!
However, one that cannot be missed is when we first see Kay in her wedding dress. A simply magical moment for our eyes. The wedding gown was designed by Edith Head, so it could be nothing, but beautiful. I also love the dress Joan Bennett is wearing at the wedding. When Spencer Tracy sees his two favourite ladies at the top of their elegance he certainly is as much flabbergasted as we are!
Father of the Bride is a movie that can easily be described as “simply delightful”. There are no uneccessary extravagances in it so it remains much pleasant to watch. I spent an agreeable time writing about it and I want to thanks Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywoodfor giving me the opportunity to do so!
Don’t forget to take a look at the other entries 🙂
Ps: It’s funny because while I was finishing writing this my sister told me that there was an old movie on television. I went to take a look at it was Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me it St. Louis! Fun coincidence. 🙂
When Paula, Kellee and Aurora announced that they’ll be back for a fifth edition of their famous What a Character! Blogathon, I said to myself that this was something I shouldn’t skip and that I had to choose the right subject. I was supposed to write an entry, last year, about Jessie Royce Landis, but due to a lack of time, I had to skip it. I was a bit angry at myself because I had everything prepared, but well, those things happen. But I didn’t want to make this mistake again this year. I didn’t want to pick something too obvious like Claude Rains or Thelma Ritter (don’t get me wrong, I love those two). I first thought of Jack Carson. I love Jack and I was obviously thrilled at the idea of writing something about him and see more of his films. But then I said to myself “wait, Virginie, you have to look for the other possibilities. Jack Carson isn’t the only great character actor.” Then I thought of a few others, including George Kennedy and George Kennedy made me think of ARTHUR Kennedy. I remembered enjoying Arthur Kennedy’s few performances I had seen and even putting him in the 47th place or so of my top 100 favourite actors (now he would very probably be higher). I decided that he would be my character actor for the blogathon and, believe me, I couldn’t have made a better choice. I simply grew up loving him while I was preparing this blogathon, and now I’m totally fascinated by him. For example, last Wednesday, I was working and I was so impatient to finish so I could get home and watch Arthur Kennedy’s movies! I was (and still am) thinking about him ALL the time when I was preparing this blogathon. If he has such a presence on screen, no wonder why he also has a great one in my mind too! It’s been a long time since I’ve been so motivated about the writing of an article. Feels good!
I feel there’s so much I want to say about him. I should start by giving you my general appreciation of this actor and then will focus more particularly on the films I decided to watch for the blogathon, which are: City for Conquest, Elmer Gantry, Champion, High Sierra, Bright Victory, The Man From Laramie, The Desperate Hours, A Summer Place, The Window and Murder She Said... I like that because it reminds me of the good old times when I was doing those movie stars marathons. 🙂
Well, Arthur Kennedy, dear Arthur Kennedy. Was he Jack Nicholson’s father? Could have been, but that’s something we’ll very probably never know. But, on my side, I like to think he was. It might be just a fantasy, but I like the idea that those two amazing stars could be relatives. And I have to say, Arthur does make me think of Jack! They both have this unique smile. Similar eyes too, but I’ll say that Arthur’s one are gentler, softer. Their voice is similar too, without being exactly the same. Ok, this might just be me, but I think Arthur Kennedy’s voice sounds like a mix of Jack Nicholson, William Holden, and Joseph Cotten’s voice. I know, it’s quite a mix, but it’s just an impression I have if I pay enough attention to this detail. It’s, in fact, a voice that can be at the time very kind and comforting, but also more “rough” when it is necessary. Always agreeable to hear. We don’t associate Arthur Kennedy to crazy characters like we often do with Jack Nicholson, but I could imagine him in some of Jack Nicholson’s role and vice versa, without any problem.
I’ve compared a lot Arthur Kennedy and Jack Nicholson’s physical traits. And that leads me to answer a question: YES, yes I think Kennedy was handsome. He didn’t have a typical handsome face like Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck, but there was something about him. He was handsome in his own way and what glorified him was his impressive charisma, his self-confidence. Charisma is always a winner for me. And he had a unique face. Arthur Kennedy was Arthur Kennedy, he couldn’t have been anybody else and nobody could have been him.
But of course, I don’t like him only because of his physical appearance (!), but also because of his acting skills. Before I started working on this blogathon, the Arthur Kennedy’s films I had seen were Lawrence of Arabia, Elmer Gantry, The Desperate Hours and City for Conquest. I somehow thought that he was one of these very underrated actors who never received any Oscar nomination or so. Yes, yes, like all character actors he is condemned to be underrated, condemn not to be remembered as an iconic actor and that’s the sad truth, but about the Oscars I was wrong. Arthur didn’t receive any, but he was nominated for no less than 5 of them! I think that’s something to be proud of. These were for Champion (Best Supporting Actor), Bright Victory (Best Actor), Trial (Best Supporting Actor), Peyton Place (Best Supporting Actor) and Some Came Running (Best Supporting Actor). Ok, I personally would have nominated him for all his roles, but we can’t have everything! Notice that, except for Some Came Running, all those films were directed by Mark Robson. Arthur Kennedy often played under the direction of Mark Robson and I believe this one was able to bring the best in him. So, hurray for Mark Robson!
Arthur Kennedy is always a good support in the films in stars in. To be honest, some (many) of them wouldn’t be the same without his presence. He is a wise actor and that wisdom is shown in his subtlety, the fact that he never overacts or “explodes” when it isn’t necessary. He’s a thoughtful and reflected actor. While I was watching his movies for the blogathon, I’ve noticed that, while he knows what he’s doing, he is, at the same time, constantly looking for a way to improve himself and make a scene be as worthy as possible. He is in constable harmony with the movie atmosphere or with the other actors’ acting skills. Arthur Kennedy is an actor who observes.
This great character actor is good at playing characters that are a bit hard to size. There’s often an aura of mystery around them. Men that we don’t exactly know how they are inside. Not meaning that they are bad, but just a bit secret. This also creates an aura of mystery around the actor himself. And that’s why I would love to read the book Arthur Kennedy, Man of Characters: A Stage and Cinema Biography. It seems to be an excellent one! Somehow, I could often associate myself with Mr. Kennedy. I think that “ambiguity” was a major factor. I’m a bit like that myself, creating a sort of wall so people won’t know too much about me, what I think and feel.
Arthur Kennedy apparently did some great stage work too. He started as an actor on Broadway in 1937. Too bad we aren’t able to see some of his stage work anymore… I do wish time machines would exist!
The impressive versatility of Mr. Kennedy as an actor was shown through a range of memorable films. It’s his performances in those films and the movie characters he portrayed that I am now going to explore in 10 of his films. Warning: I won’t be providing any plot summary for the simple reason that I don’t want this post being longer that it already is. I shall strictly focus on Mr. Kennedy’s performances and characters. Of course, I will prevent some plot elements if necessary.
Film 1 : City for Conquest (Anatole Litvak, 1940)
Role: Eddie Kenny
Nothing better than starting all this with Arthur Kennedy’s first on-screen role. In this film, he plays a musician and music composer, and James Cagney’s brother, who portrays a boxer. The two actors are in perfect harmony and support each other with their respective talents. The film provides some very touching scenes between him and Cagney, especially in the parts where Cagney is at the hospital after having been badly injured during a boxing match. Even if this was Arthur Kennedy’s first role and not the leading one, he certainly steals some scenes. He was young and full of life. Even James Cagney seemed impressed by him! And if I’m not mistaken, it’s James Cagney who discovered him for the role. As a music composer, he is passionate and passionating. In this concert scene, when he leads the orchestra, he is shown in an impressive glory and dynamism. Anatole Litvak did a great job at giving him scenes that would emphasize is talent and make us noticing him. Finally, we observe that the character he’s portraying is one that is often calm, but can explode. This is not only felt in his music and the way he plays piano, but also in the boxing match scene when is brother is being completely destroyed. The desperate Arthur Kennedy certainly breaks our hearts.
Film 2: Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960)
Role: Jim Lefferts
I think this is one of my very favourite Arthur Kennedy’s roles and performances. In this world full of “passionate” Christians, he plays a reporter and perhaps the most normal character of the gang. What I like about Jim Lefferts is the fact that he represents the non-Christian spectators like me. Due to that, and other elements, Elmer Gantry is a film many can appreciate. I’m not religious at all, and religion is the central theme of the film. It remains a favourite and I believe Arthur Kennedy has a lot to do with it (of course I’m also a big fan of Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons). Jim Lefferts is a character that is hard to size. He is sort of a double- faced one, which makes him quite interesting. Arthur Kennedy is a great support to Jean Simmons and Burt Lancaster. He sort of adds a touch of wisdom in the film, in this crazy world! But what I appreciate the most about his performance is the fact that, while I was watching the film, me and him sometimes had the same facial expressions at the same time. That connection felt great! Due to that, he’s the character I understand the best in Elmer Gantry. Arthur Kennedy also plays a reporter in the masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia. Once again, his “normality” creates an interesting contrast with Lawrence of Arabia himself, a greatly interesting man on many levels.
Film 3: Champion (Mark Robson, 1949)
Role: Connie Kelly
For his performance in Champion, Arthur Kennedy received his first Oscar nomination. Here, he, once again, plays a brother, and, once again, he is a boxer’s brother (Kirk Douglas’s one this time)! It’s with this film that I noticed how Arthur Kennedy was excellent at playing men with a certain concern, who often worry about what is happening around them. In Champion, Arthur Kennedy is again the most “down to Earth” character, unlike his brother whose fame isn’t doing any good. When he tries to reason him, it doesn’t seem to really work and we wish we could be here to help! Arthur Kennedy has a great chemistry with all the actors in this film, but what particularly struck me were his scenes with Ruth Roman. Those are simply beautiful. If we are good watchers, we can see, from the beginning of the film, that Connie is in love with Emma (Ruth Roman). I personally think he is the one who deserved her the most. The film also contains some memorable scenes between him and Kirk Douglas, especially the final one: just before Midge Kelly (Kirk Douglas)’s 2nd boxing match against Johnny Dunne, the two men are having an argument which ends in a fight. Arthur Kennedy puts an impressive range of emotion in this scene as the desperate men who doesn’t know what to do anymore to reason his brother. Once again, he “explodes” at the perfect moment. Finally, Champion is a film that can be praised for his impressive black and white cinematography. Due to that, Kennedy is as much filmed in a glorious way as Douglas is. One of my favourite shots is when he walks in the dark corridors that lead to the ring. The only light is focused on him and we can see the despair in his face and that he knows that [spoiler] all this won’t end with a happy ending… [end of spoiler]
Film 4: High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941)
Role: Red Hattery
Arthur Kennedy’s role in High Sierra was a smaller one. As a matter of fact, it was his second on-screen role. But small or not, just because it’s Arthur Kennedy we appreciate any of his roles. I like the fact that one of the first things we see from him in this film noir is a smiling Arthur Kennedy. The film was, of course, much more Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino’s one. Arthur Kennedy simply plays one of those typical criminal “assistants” that are too often overshadowed. And I think that’s too bad and it would have been interesting to see more of him in the film. His acting shows potential and it would have been great if his character would have been more well-developed.
Film 5: Bright Victory (Mark Robson, 1951)
Role: Larry Nevins
Finally a leading role for Mr. Kennedy! An another Oscar nomination too. 🙂 We must admit that the competition was high at the 1952’s Oscar for the Best actor category: Humphrey Bogart for The African Queen (the winner), Marlon Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire, Montgomery Clift for A Place in the Sun, Fredric March for Death of a Salesman (ok, that’s the one I haven’t seen, but I bet he deserved the nomination!) and, of course, Arthur Kennedy in Bright Victory. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner, but, in my heart, they all are! 😉 When I started watching the film, Arthur Kennedy made me smile immediately. Not that he is doing anything that could voluntary make us smile, he’s just driving a car, but simply the fact that he’s here and that I was beginning to know him more and more. You know, just as if he was a friend. 🙂 In Bright Victory, he plays a man who becomes blind after being injured in the war. The moment when he receives the bullet and closes his eyes to express the pain is just perfect. Because he plays a blind man, Arthur Kennedy had to express a lot his emotions with his mouth, his voice, his gestures, and he did it right. I’ve noticed how he uses a lot his hands to show the tension his character is feeling, and this, especially after the heartbreaking scene when he learns that he won’t ever be able to see again. The scene where he tries to see his reflection in a mirror after having learned the bad news shows an emotional Arthur Kennedy, but, this time, emotional for what is happening to him and not what is happening to his relatives like in City for Conquest or Champion. Arthur Kennedy often shows an impressive energy and dynamism in this film, but can be calmer too. For example, when the lieutenant wants him to inform his family about his blindness, he looks at him like a little boy who has done something wrong. Poor Arthur! That telephone scene with his mother certainly is heartbreaking. Another great example would be this scene when he dances with Judy (Peggy Dow). There’s a lot of softness in him and it’s nice to see a romantic Arthur Kennedy! The evening ends with a kiss (and that was the first time I was seeing Kennedy is a kissing scene. Very worthy. *sight*….). You know that I love when Arthur Kennedy smiles, so, of course, that scene when he discovered that he has a sort of “natural radar” that allows him to “feel” the obstacles that are on his way is one of my favourite. He seems so happy and we know that his life will be alright after all. To continue with the touching scenes, I like the fact that Arthur Kennedy is very good with the girls in this film. That scene when he discovers Judy is crying is forever touching and almost made me cry. Or the fact that there’s always a lot of tenderness when he hugs Chris (Julie Adams), or when [spoiler] he hugs Judy in the final scene at the train station: the emotion! Simply beautiful! [end of spoiler] Arthur Kennedy was very thoughtful in this role. He somehow manages to make us feel his emotions and the emotion of his partners, with whom he always has an excellent chemistry. He is an actor who listens, who pays attention to his environment. If the feeling of anxiety is well expressed by Arthur Kennedy is this film, it’s also the case for the feelings of hope and happiness. The only thing I would have appreciated more from this film, and that’s not Arthur Kennedy’s fault, would have been to see more close-ups of his face. There’s one scene that does justice to that: when he’s on the balcony and opens and closes a light. There’s something sad in this scene, that is not only shown by his solemn face, but also by the light itself, as we know that, open or closed, it doesn’t make much difference for Larry Nevins’s eyes…
Film 6: The Man From Laramie (Anthony Mann, 1955)
Role: Vic Hansbro
The viewing of this film was a special one for me as Arthur Kennedy was starring on the sides of James Stewart, my favourite actor. It also was the first (and only one so far) western starring Kennedy that I was seeing. And the man is great in every type of role. Kennedy makes his first appearance in the film when he arrives to stop James Stewart’s aggressors. He warns Jimmy to not cause trouble in the town, and when Jimmy doesn’t “respect that” he has a fight with him. :O But strangely, unlike Jimmy he is quite calm after the fight. Arthur Kennedy still is a very “attentive” actor in this film. He has so much presence, even when he isn’t saying or doing anything. While he remains a very “relax” character (at a certain point) his unique love scene with Cathy O’Donnell (as Barbara Waggoman) is more aggressive and shows a more savage passion than the scenes with Peggy Dow in Bright Victory for example. Kennedy often proves is great acting abilities at many moments of the film. When he has a confrontation with Alec Waggoman (Donal Crips), toward the beginning of the film, he is angry, bitter and convincing. He NEVER overacts, but that doesn’t mean he has a lack of dynamism and good theatricality. He’s always very natural when he’s angry. When Dave is making a fire to attract the Indian’s attention, his “he’s completely crazy” face is just perfect. Kennedy shows a certain authority and remains [spoiler] and ambiguous villain. [end of spoiler] We just don’t see him coming. In the final confrontation with James Stewart, is desperate “What did I do to you!” makes us realize that he’s not the worst villain there is, mostly a misunderstood man. He then becomes the victim. He is “controlled” by James Stewart and we are not used to see Arthur Kennedy, the one who always stands up, the one who is so independent, receiving orders. That scene has one of my favourite Arthur Kennedy’s moment: his ” what the hell did we just do” face after he and James Stewart pushed the wagon full of rifles down the cliff simply cracks me up with laughs!
Film 7: The Desperate Hours (William Wyler, 1955)
Role: Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard
Just like City for Conquest and Elmer Gantry, this was not my first viewing of The Desperate Hours. But I was impatient to see it again to pay a better attention to Kennedy’s performance. In this film directed by my third favourite movie director, William Wyler, Arthur Kennedy plays a deputy sheriff and he’s just perfect at it. He is greatly involved in his role and shows an impressive concentration. Depending on the situation, he knows perfectly how to choose the right facial expressions. Kennedy was a natural. If he loses his patient, it’s always in the appropriated circumstances, but he knows how stays reasonable. Kennedy stands tall in every scene of the film and always owns the screen. When I came at the point of watching this film, I was recognizing Arthur Kennedy’s voice more and more, and that’s something I always like. As a “detective”, he couldn’t have been better. With his long grey coat, his hat, his cigarette he is highly convincing. Jesse Bard is a man who knows what he’s doing. Never he will put the victims in danger, despite the very delicate situation. He makes the right decisions and saves the family in a wise way. Finally, the final shots of Arthur Kennedy in The Desperate Hours shows some great close-ups of his profile, which allows us to see his very “typed” face.
In this melodrama, Arthur Kennedy plays an alcoholic family father. What I like about this film is the fact that he is one of the first actors we see. He is here at the very beginning. Yes! Bart Hunter is a man with a certain sense of humour. That unique smile of his and those cheekbones are obviously always welcomed. 😉 Bart Hunter is a very daring man. But he’s quite patient and constantly trying to calm the atmosphere (for example, when Molly and Johnny are missing). But he can also lose his temper. For example, in this confrontation with his wife (played by Dorothy MacGuire): this scene is very interesting as it shows a different face of Bart Hunter. He becomes a broken man from a broken family. There’s a long part in the film where we don’t see Kennedy, but his “comeback” is a powerful one. Molly and Johnny find him, drunk, and announce him their engagement. It’s impressive how he’s staying very calm and patient while he’s expressing his disapproval. In this scene, Bart has a moment of physical weakness and the feeling of pain is very well acted by Arthur Kennedy. A Summer Place was a great opportunity for Arthur Kennedy to show his versatility as an actor in a very complex and, I believe, very misunderstood role. At some points, he really made me think of Jack Nicholson, but I can’t really explain why! Finally, one thing I love about Arthur Kennedy in this film is this moment when he says something in French. Of course, as this is my first language, it’s always something I appreciate. When Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford) says that the bedroom is “très, très jolie” he replies ” Votre approbation touch mon coeur madame.” That was too charming and this accent was too sweet, I had to play the scene a second time. The funny thing is that Mrs. Jorgenson doesn’t understand what he’s saying so Molly (Sandra Dee) has to do the translation. It’s always nice to have a sort of connection with our favourite actors! 😉
Film 9: The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949)
Role: Mr. Ed Woodry
The Window was a very interesting film about a boy who witnesses a murder, but that nobody believes due to his reputation of always telling stories. Here, Arthur Kennedy once again plays a family father. He was young and handsome in 1949 and had a lot of style. Mr. Woodry is a very patient man who first listens to his son’s stories with a certain amusement. But after he tells him about the murder, he tries to reason him and convince him that what he saw probably was just his imagination or that he is telling another story. We feel he becomes irritated by his son at some point, but he remains always very patient. Ok, I must admit there’s a moment in this film that really frighten me for a moment: after his son has run away from the house by his bedroom’s window to go tell the police about the story, Arthur Kennedy tells him “There’s something I will have to do, even if I don’t like it” or something like that, and he takes what looks like a wooden stick in a drawer. When I was watching that I was thinking “NO! No, he’s going to beat his son with this wooden stick. Please, Arthur Kennedy, don’t break my heart!” And the most frightening thing about it was the fact that he was staying very calm, just like a psychopath, you know. You can’t imagine my relief when I realized that this wooden stick was just the handle of a hammer and that he was only going to use it to close the bedroom’s window. Ouf! Don’t worry, Ed Woodry is a good father!
Film 10: Murder She Said… (George Pollock, 1962)
Role: Dr. Paul Quimper
We finally come to our last film. In this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel starring Margaret Rutherford as the notorious Miss Marple, Arthur Kennedy plays a family doctor. He is a gentleman, quite agreeable. I’ve noticed that Arthur Kennedy’s voice in this film seems a bit more low-pitched than in the previous ones. But that might just be an impression! Anyway, it’s just a small detail. Dr. Quimper has a secret romance with Emma: we like that! The way he pronounces the name “Emma” is soft and beautiful. We, however, notice a certain tension in him when [spoiler] Miss Marple discovers that he is the murderer. But he handles this in a brilliant way, without any unnecessary rage. [end of spoiler]. Murder She Said… certainly is a fun film and it was a great way to end my little marathon. However, as Arthur Kenned is the second actor credited, I would have expected to see more scenes with him. That’s the only thing that disappointed me a bit about the film.
My viewing of Arthur Kennedy’s films certainly won’t stop here. I know I still have a lot to see, including his other Oscar performances. But this marathon made him an absolute favourite of mine, and as I’ve said in the beginning of this article, I couldn’t have chosen a better subject for the What a Character! Blogathon! I would have liked to talk also about his performance in Lawrence of Arabia, but I didn’t have time to re-watch this very long film in time for the blogathon. However, Monday I’m going to see the film on the big screen! 😀 Jealous? 😉
The wisdom of Arthur Kennedy impressed me much and the very thoughtful and calm character he plays in those 10 films sort of made me a better person. Arthur Kennedy has a great influence on me, because, since I’m watching his film for the blogathon, it seems that I am more patient myself. I’ve learned a lot from Arthur Kennedy and I’m forever grateful.
I hope that with this quite long article (!) I was convincing enough on why Arthur Kennedy is such a great character actor and deserves more recognition.
High Noon. Ah! This film that I first knew as its French title: Le train sifflera trois fois.
For those who are reading my blog of a long time, you probably know that High Noon is one of the films that made me discover classics, but also the film that made me discover Grace Kelly (and, as a matter of fact, Gary Cooper too). It’s also my favourite western. Why? We’ll come back to that later.
High Noon was directed by Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity, Oklahoma!A Man of all Seasons) and produced by Stanley Kramer. Carl Foreman wrote the script and Dimitri Tiomkin wrote the music. The film stars Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Thomas Mitchell, Lon Chaney Jr, Otto Kruger, Lee Van Cleef (his first role, a silent one), Ian MacDonald, Sheb Wooley and Robert J. Wilke.
Released in 1952 and winner of four Oscars (including Best Actor for Gary Cooper), and three nominations (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay), High Noon remains one of those timeless classics. For its brilliant composition, it’s one of the “old movies” that can be appreciated by many generations.
High Noon is a very “simple” western. No Indian chases here and no big countries. All the action takes place in a little town of New Mexico, Hadleyville. Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the town marshall, just get married to Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), a young Quaker girl. A newly wed man, Kane is about to give us his profession and be replaced by a new marshal. But as soon as the wedding ceremony is over, the railway station man comes in a hurry to inform them that the notoriously terrible Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is arriving by the noon train. His brother Ben Miller (Sheb Wooley) and his acolytes Jack Colby (Lee Van Cleef) and Jim Pierce (Robert J. Wilke) are waiting for him at the station. Kane had once arrested Miller for murder and this one was to be executed, but things changed and he wasn’t. People suspect that he is back to take revenge on Kane. So, they hurry him to live with Amy. On his way, Kane feels responsible for the protection of the town and decides to go back. Things don’t go too well for him as, Amy, a pacifist, tells him she’ll leave by the noon train if he doesn’t leave the town with her. Plus, Kane looks for people to help him confront Frank Miller, but nobody seems to have the courage to take such a risk.
High Noon is my favourite Western because it’s more than just an ordinary Western. The performances are ace and the visual dimension, is yet, simple, but also very impressive.
But let’s start with Grace Kelly, who is our main subject today. High Noon was Grace’s second film and her first important role. Even if it still was not a leading role, it was more important than the one she had in 14 Hours (Henry Hathaway, 19510. Anyway. Grace Kelly’s role in High Noon has always been one of my favourites of hers. As a matter of fact, it might be my favourite one. The main reason why is that Grace is so humble in this film. We know she had mostly played high society ladies, beautiful, clever, perfect. Too perfect. I love her in Rear Window and To Catch a Thief of course, but I find it difficult to identify with these classy characters. But Amy is more an ordinary girl. She has great values, she is simple (in a good way) and courageous too. She also has such a kind face and inspires confidence. Amy Kane was the innocent and sweet Grace Kelly, the pre-Hitchcockian cool blond. Grace also was only 21 when she starred in that film, my age, so it’s another reason for me to feel close to her!
For a second film, Grace Kelly gives quite a convincing performance. She is maybe not as much at ease as in Rear Window or maybe not as much poignant as in The Country Girl, but she still impresses us. I always remember this wedding scene at the beginning. Grace seems so angelic with her beautiful big eyes. Just the ultimate definition of the word adorable. Even if she first plays the calm girl, she manages to surprise us when she confronts Will Kane in his decision of staying at Hadleyville to face Frank Miller and his gang. I love this moment when she says to Gary Cooper (Kane) “Don’t try to be a hero! You don’t have to be a hero! Not for me!” There’s so much emotion in her voice, so much power. We almost believe she will convince Will to stay, but she, unfortunately, doesn’t.
It might not be obvious at first, but Grace also portrays a woman who is strong and independent. Some people might think that she abandons her husband by deciding to leave on the noon train. Maybe, but it also shows us that she makes decisions for herself. Then, [spoiler] at the end, when she finally decides to leave the train and go find her husband in the fight, she becomes the second heroine and proves us her great love for her new husband and her courage to do something she will normally not do: kill. [end of spoiler].
This scene between Grace and Katy Jurado, who plays Helen Ramírez, Kane and Miller’s ex-girlfriend, is a delight. Because it shows us a strong opposition between the woman of character (Helen) and the woman of values (Amy). Due to Helen and Will pasts, we are afraid the two ladies might not stand each other, but, on the contrary, we realize they kind of complete each other. We may also say that it’s thanks to Helen if Amy finally decides to help her husband. She makes her understand that she has to fight for her man if she loves him. For her clever performance as Helen Ramírez, Katy Jurado won a Golden Globe Award.
Grace was not happy with her performance and said about it that she was too wooden, but Fred Zinnemann found positivism in this and claimed that Grace’s lack of experience as an actress combined to, yes, he had to admit, the fact that she was a bit wooden only made her character more adorable and more touching. It was perhaps the perfect type of acting for someone like Amy Kane.
I have a great collection of Grace Kelly’s pictures and some of my favourite are these shots that were taken on the set of the film:
It has often been said that Gary Cooper was too old for Grace Kelly. Yes, it’s true. She was 21 and he was around 50. There’s a big age difference, but, due to the fact that I love Gary Cooper, I don’t mind much. As a matter of fact, I think Grace and him look good together. They’re a beautiful chemistry between them (one of my favourite moments is, at the end, [spoiler] when they hug each other after Miller’s death [end of spoiler]. There’s so much tenderness, so much beauty in this moment. Younger actors such as Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Charlton Heston were also listed for the role, but, to be honest, I couldn’t imagine someone else than Gary Cooper as Will Kane. The film simply BELONG to him. It’s, in my opinion, his best performance, and there’s no surprise he won his second Oscar for it. His acting game is full of subtlety and full of honesty. Kane AND Gary Cooper are simply heroes in this film. For once, I have to say, no supporting actors surpass the main one.
The rest of the cast is marvellous too, but I’d like to focus on other aspects of the film now.
Something I’ve always loved about High Noon is how the music and the image share the film space so well. To me, this film is like a big choreography. I couldn’t imagine High Noon without “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'” or without Dimitri Tiomkins’s glorious, suspenseful and memorable score. It’s a must to the film and it reflects so well its atmosphere.
My favourite moment, precisely due to the image and the music, might be the opening. I mean, when I was watching the film yesterday, I just started it over three times because I just love it. We star hearing Tex Ritter singing “Do Not Forsake me” and the first actor we see is Lee Van Cleef. He advances toward the camera with style and his unique look. Even if he has a small part in the film, this moment glorifies him for sure. Then, Sheb Wooley and Robert J. Wilke arrive and add even more magnificence to this scene.
It’s no wonder why High Noon won the Oscar for best editing. This one plays with the multiple possibilities and creates a great dynamism in a film that, first, remains quite simple. The camera shots are perfectly chosen to convince our eyes and make this film unforgettable.
High Noon was filmed in a way to give power to everybody. Everybody seems to count in this film, even if their role is a minor one (remember what I previously said about Lee Van Cleef). Some of my favourite shots are the one when Grace and Kane leave in their carriage. They are filmed in a low angle shot and they look so noble. I love it.
I’m also quite a fan of most shots that include Lee Van Cleef. I mean, he has the most amazing close ups:
Grace Kelly also has her moment of prestige with well-chosen close-ups, which apparently made Katy Jurado a bit jealous.
The film also presents some amazing aerial shots, such as this one that accentuates the fact that Kane is now all alone. Look at the beginning of this clip:
High Noon is not a traditional western as it was much more based on good morals than “bang bang” and “cowboy vs Indians”. I have to say, I’ve never really liked it when Indians are the bad ones in Western, because, first it’s racist and, second, it’s not representative of the reality. But that’s another story! High Noon manages to escape with grace from these prejudices. The film is also known to be a symbolic opposition against the blacklisting and McCarthyism there was at the time. John Wayne saw it as the most un-American thing he has never seen. Fred Zinnemann said of High Noon that it was “a story about a man’s conflict of conscience.”
High Noon‘s screenwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted during the Maccartysme area. Sadly enough, screenwriters seemed to have been the scapegoats of the Maccartysme…
His script remains memorable for the glorification of the individual, glorified with the words, and the values he shares so well with us.
As I often like to do it, here are some of my favourite quotes of the film:
1- Helen (to Harvey) : You’re a good-looking boy: you’ve big, broad shoulders. But he’s a man. And it takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man.
2- Helen: What kind of woman are you? How can you leave him like this? Does the sound of guns frighten you that much?Amy: I’ve heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live. Will knows how I feel about it.
3- Helen: Kane will be a dead man in half an hour and nobody’s gonna do anything about it. And when he dies, this town dies too. I can feel it. I am all alone in the world. I have to make a living. So I’m going someplace else. That’s all.
4- Amy: Don’t try to be a hero! You don’t have to be a hero, not for me!
5- Will [on staying in the town, facing Frank Miller]: I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing.
High Noon is a movie full of good values and it presents us a good life lesson at the end. Simply, that people are sometimes weak and don’t deserve what is done for them. It’s pretty clear when [Spoiler] Will and Amy leaves the town without saying a word to anybody. Will just saved them from Miller, alone. Nobody wanted to help him. He throws his marshal star on the ground and leaves a hero, but a bitter hero. [end of spoiler]
High Noon was often described as “a western for people who don’t like westerns”. (IMDB) I think it’s true. For all the reasons I’ve previously said. This film is one of a kind and almost belongs to a separate category. It is also known to be a “Noir Western”.
It’s a film that will always have a special place in my heart, and writing about it was nothing but a good experience.
Other fellow bloggers have honoured Grace Kelly and her films with their contributions to the 2nd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon. I invite you to take a look at them here.
Before I leave you, all I can say is happy heavenly birthday dear Grace Kelly!
She left us too soon, but her memory will always be honoured.
Hitchcock’s films have been analyzed through various subjects. They are recognizable for having common points, both in their narrative and technical aspects. We know Hitchcock liked cool blondes, “wrong men”, murders, stairs, trains, cameos, etc. But a subject that isn’t talked much about is the importance of water in his films. I was thinking about this recently and, generally, water in Hitchcock’s film is associated with danger or, at least, to something not positive.
I had the idea of writing about this as, yesterday, in class, we were talking about two Lucia Puenzo’s movies, XXY and The Fish Child. In both movies, water is associated with something calm, something not menacing and beautiful. And then I thought, “Oh not like in Hitchcock’s films!” Because Hitchcock obviously always comes to my mind…
How is the element water used in Hitchcock’s films? That’s what I’ll explore today through 17 of his films. I might reveal some spoilers, so be careful. There are movies I might not be discussing if I haven’t seen them already.
Generally, water is associated with murder in Hitchcock movies. What always first comes to our mind when we think about Hitchcock movies is the famous shower scene from Psycho. Here, we could also associate this shower to vulnerability. Marion Crane is trapped like a mouse. There’s no way she can get out and save herself. Why did the murderer decide to kill her in the shower? Let’s precise that Hitchcock did not invent that original murder, but Robert Bloch in his book of the same name. But anyway, why the shower? My theories are that it is a place where the victim becomes highly vulnerable like I previously said, but also where the blood is easier to wash. I’ve always liked this scene when Norman Bates cleans the blood in the bathtub after the murder. It’s all washed very quickly and easily. He doesn’t have to scrub during hours.
Psycho, yes, is the first film we’ll think about when we mention water and murder while discussing Hitchcock’s films, but it’s certainly not the only one. A movie where water is absolutely like hell is the not so often talked about Jamaica Inn. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphné Du Maurier, it takes place on the Cornwall coast. Without going into the whole movie plot, the main problematic involves a bunch of criminals who provoke shipwrecks by turning off the light of the lighthouse on the coast. As a result, the boats dart on the rocky coast and sink. The survivors are then killed by the men and are abandoned in the water like the boats and the rest of the already dead crew. The criminals then steal the boats from their possessions. Unlike Psycho, this involves mass murder. The concept is very interesting, although I’ve always thought those men were going through a lot to reach their goal… Jamaica Inn is a very dark film. Water here is not only associated with murder, but also to barbarism. Poor Mary Yellen’s uncle is one of them. He and the other men are people with no manners and no consideration. They are more like beasts than humans, unlike [spoiler] Norman Bates, who remains a someone with manners despite his wrong actions (of course, we only discover at the end that HE is the murderer). [end of spoiler]. But of course, here we’re comparing someone with a mental case to common thieves with no common sense.
Then, there is Saboteur. Here, it’s not complicated, one of Frank Fry’s hideous sabotage plans consist in the explosion of a boat. The struggle between Fry and Kane in the truck where the detonator remains among the most stressful scenes in Hitchcock’s filmography. Will Kane succeed to stop Fry from pushing the detonator? Unfortunately, no. The boat explodes under the eyes of terrified people. Here, what we associate with water is simply the boat. No need to explain why. One of the most memorable shots of the film is when Fry, sat in a car, sees the boat lying on its side in the water, and does this creepy criminal smile. By the way, Norman Lloyd, the oldest Hollywood actor will turn 102 years old next November 8! Very soon! 🙂
The last movie we’ll talk about is Strangers on a Train. Here, it concerns Miriam’s murder. Remember, Bruno Anthony kills her on the Lovers Island at the amusement park. The island is obviously surrounded by water, which allows the murderer to escape in his boat and go back on the solid ground. Here, the victim is not directly killed in the water like in Jamaica Inn or Psycho, but her murder takes place next to a watercourse.
AFTER THE MURDER…
Sometimes, the victim in Hitchcock’s film would not necessarily have been murdered in the water, but would be found in a watercourse, simply because that’s where the murderer decided to get rid of her. This refers to the famous cliché that murderers get rid of their victims by throwing them in a lake, a river, the sea, etc. Once again, water is associated to something creepy. I mean, who would like to go swim in a bay where a corpse has been found?
The first film we’ll think about is Young and Innocent. It’s poor Robert who discovers the dead body of actress Christine Clay while he’s walking on the beach. First, we see a hand appearing among the waves (kind of creepy) and then the whole corpse. But the presence of a belt as well let us know that she didn’t drown, but had been murdered by strangulation.
Then there is Rebecca. During the whole movie, we think Rebecca died in a boat accident until we learn that she, in fact, died in her little house by the sea. [spoiler] In the novel she is killed by her husband Max the Winter, but in the film, she dies by falling and hurting her head (always in the presence of Max). But in both cases, Max decides to get rid of the corpse by putting it in the sailing ship and arranges for it to sink, so people would believe in an accident.[end of spoiler]. The ocean is menacing in Rebecca. This one seems always in movement, never calm and highly impressive. [spoiler] Rebecca’s boat and the corpse are found in the stressful climax of the film. [end of spoiler] If you have read Daphné du Maurier’s novel, it describes how, even if the west wing’s rooms give a beautiful view of the sea, the east wing’s rooms are more peaceful having a view on the garden. Precisely because there’s something, yes, beautiful, but also menacing and violent about the ocean, especially on windy nights.
In To Catch a Thief, water is first associated with something casual and pleasant when France and John swim in the Mediterranean on a sunny day, until [spoiler] Foussard is killed. He is knocked out on the head and falls into the sea from a high cliff. We remember his inert face, with the eyes open, when he is found. Quite a shock for the poor guy…[end of spoiler]
We then get back to Psycho, where water becomes important, not only during the shower scene, but also in those sequences where Norman Bates gets rid of the victim’s cars. And where does he put them? In the dirty pond! Clever. Here, water is used to hide something. Marion Crane’s car is fished out at the end of the film. We know her body is in the trunk of the car, but we’re thankful those details are not shown to us. Hugh!
To wrap up on this category, the last film we should mention in Frenzy. At the beginning, one of the victims of the “necktie murderer” is found in the Thames under the terrified reactions of the Londoners. Mind the river.
Murderers seem not to have understood something: even if you throw a body in the water, it will always come back to the surface… Better bury him!
A delicate subject, suicide has not been as much present as murder in Hitchcock movies, but it’s there. The first film that comes to our mind when we think about suicide in Hitchcock films is Vertigo. Remember, Scottie follows Madeleine (well, that’s what he thinks…) and, when they arrived next to the Golden Gate (the story takes place in San Francisco), she throws herself in the San Francisco Bay. Ironically, the Golden Gate is known as the bridge where the biggest amount of suicides was committed in North America. The second one is the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal where I live (…). Anyway, Madeleine creates an association between her and water by choosing this way of killing herself. Luckily, Scottie manages to rescue her. Poor Kim Novak, she really couldn’t swim. Hitchcock could be harsh on his actresses…
Chloé from the mediocre film The Skin Game does the same and kill herself by falling into a pool. To be honest, I don’t really know why. It’s not a very good film, so I kind of forgot about it.
Finally, Hitchcock’s early silent film The Manxman also contains a suicide scene when Kate elegantly throws herself in the water. Her wedding life was not going too well…
Water also becomes dangerous when you are on a boat and this one sinks… This was used at its full potential in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. After a boat as been sunk by the German army, its survivors find themselves surviving on a lifeboat, for an undetermined period. What will happen to them? They are lost, forever alone in this huge ocean. But “water” here is also a synonym of “hope”. They hope for rain, as they practically have nothing to drink. This Hitchcock’s film, where all the action takes place on the ocean is one of his most thrilling.
There’s also an important scene in Rich and Strange that involves a boat sinking. That’s what happens to Emily and Fred at the end of their cruise. The poor ones think they are at the end of their life, but, luckily, they are saved by another boat. We remember when they are locked up in their room and the water starts coming through the door. It seems to be the end, but, when they wake up, Fred and Emily realizes they are not dead. That would have been too dramatic for such a film.
There are four more films I briefly want to mention that are also related to water in Hitchcock’s films.
First, there’s Sabotage. In this film, the two saboteurs have a secret meeting in an aquarium. It’s indeed a very special place to have a meeting. Of course, it’s a calm place, there are not too many people and the fish cannot really hear them… This is a very special scene in the film. Shot in an interesting visual way.
Second, The Birds takes place in Bodega Bay. The bay is part of the pacific ocean and it’s in this little Californian town that aggressive birds will attack people. Once again, the menace is happening next to a watercourse. We see a lot of seagulls in The Birds, which birds that NORMALLY live by the sea (if there’s not a McDonald around…)
Third, Roger Thornhill almost falls from a cliff when he is driving his car, drunk. Vandamm and his gang hoped to kill him this way, but, obviously, Thornhill manages to save his skin. Well, it would have been too weird if Cary Grant would have died in the first minutes of the film, no?…
Finally, water becomes associated with danger at the end of Number 17, when the train, that goes at a very high speed, falls into the sea. The film is not a very good one, but that’s a moment we don’t forget. And, as much as the water is menacing for the train, by falling into it, the train also becomes a menace for the water as it pollutes it. Yes, we must have an environmental conscience, even when we watch Hitchcock’s movies! 😉
There are some movies that I might not have mentioned that also use water as an object of fear and danger. I think there’s a plane that crashes in the ocean in Foreign Correspondent, no? But I preferred not to develop on the subject as I haven’t seen the film yet and didn’t want to say anything that could be wrong.
Well, as always, there’s always so much to say about one specific subject in a Hitchcock film! I hope this was interesting!
I had a lot of pleasure when I wrote about Cecil Beaton’s costumes for My Fair Lady for The 31 Days of Oscars Blogathons (the crafts). So, when Christina Wenher and Into the Writer Lea announced their Characters in Costume Blogfest, I thought it was a most appealing idea. I obviously wanted to talk about a movie where the costumes were one of the major elements. Was I to go with something extravagant like Watler Plunkett’s costumes for Gone With the Wind or something more sober, but always refine, like Adrian’s costumes for The Philadelphia Story. Well, I opted for the first option and Irene Sharaff’s costumes for The King and I was my chosen subject. Today, I will only focus on this aspect of the film. Of course, I thought it was a great film. Yes, Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner are marvellous in it, but that’s not what I want to talk about in details.
I warn you, this post might contain some spoilers as I will relate the evolution of the costumes to the evolution of the story. So, be careful if you haven’t seen the film yet!
The King and I is a musical directed by Walter Lang and released in 1956. It stars Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Rita Moreno, Terry Saunders and Martin Benson. It was an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, itself based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, Ernest Lehman wrote the script. The King and I was a winner of five Oscars: Best Actor in a leading role (Yul Brynner), Best Art Direction- Set Decoration, colour (John DeCuir, Lyle R. Wheeler, Walter M. Scott, Paul S. Fox), Best Costume Design, Color (Irene Sharaff), Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture ( Alfred Newman and Ken Darby) and Best Sound Recording (Carlton W. Faulkner). It was also nominated for Best Picture ( Charles Brackett), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Deborah Kerr), Best Director (Walter Lang) and Best Cinematography, Color (Leon Shamroy).
The King and I certainly was a financial success, and also a critical one. However, it was criticized for some changes in the original dialogues and the omission of some songs. The film was banned in Thailand due to its inaccurate representation of King Mongkut of Siam. But overall, The King and I was a movie made to be remembered!
The story takes place in Siam (actual Thailand) and starts in 1862. Anna Leonowens (Kerr), a young English widow, has come to Bangkok with her son Louis (Rex Thompson) to be the teacher and governess of King Mongkut (Yul Brynner)’s numerous, but most adorable children. She is forced to live in the palace due to the unkept promise of the king to provide her a house. Anna will be here not only to help the children, but also the king himself (even if he’ll never admit he needs help) and the king’s sad last wife, Tuptim (Rita Moreno), who is unhappy and misses her lover terribly.
It’s hard to resume The King and I because it’s not really a story, but more a situation. Anyway, I hope this had gives you a good preview of it.
But let’s move to our main subject: the costumes.
Irene Sharaff certainly deserved her Oscar for her brilliant creations. Of course, both the European fashion of the 19th century and the Siamese traditional fashion are used in this film. Deborah Kerr is always seen with those big, but oh! so elegant crinoline dresses. Apparently, Deborah Kerr’s gowns each weighted between 30 and 40 pounds due to the pleats, hoops, and petticoats (IMDB). And to imagine now that girls are sometimes practically naked in the street… Of course, I think each type of fashion had its advantages and disadvantages.
Interestingly enough, Irene Sharaff worked both on the stage and film costumes of The King and I.
Irene Sharaff’s costumes for The King and I are some that seem to have been perfectly calculated in function of the story and in function of the sets. We, indeed, can often observe how a certain fabric matches perfectly the colour of the walls or the furniture. That’s what makes this film visually stunning. If Sharaff’s costumes are very colourful, there’s nothing too extravagant about them, precisely because they blend into the scenery.
It’s interesting, however, to talk about these costumes in the same order as the story:
At the beginning of the film, Anna arrives on both with her son. They both wear blue. A big light blue crinoline dress for Anna and a little light blue ensemble for Louis. These are chic, but still sober costumes. Well, today it’s not exactly with THIS type of dress we’ll be travelling, but remember, we are back in 1862. There’s not much said about Anna’s past (except for her dead husband), but this type of dress gives us the clue that she comes from the high society (and also the fact that she’s going to be the governess of a king’s children). We can see little white flowers embroidered around the dress’s buttons. Her belt is an accessory that emphasizes her tiny waist. It is small details like that that makes all the difference. We can also observe white gloves on Anna’s hands. Her dress is not a very revealing one and the sleeves are long. Is it more practical for travelling on a boat where the wind can be quite violent?
Light blue and white are two colours that always are beautiful together, like the sky and its clouds. Blue is a colour that will often be associated with Anna. She often wears light blue gowns in the film. Is it a way to reflect her personality? Apparently, blue is a symbol of wisdom, calm and liberty. Anna certainly is a wise person. Calm? Hum, maybe not the calmest person. She is working for the king, but it is obvious she wants to keep her liberty. To live out of the palace is a first clue for this seek of liberty and, remember she is not the king’s servant! 😉
When Anna meets Kralahome and his servants on the boat, we can observe how those are dressed, with baggy pants and are topless. Unlike Anna, they wear a lot of golden jewels and gems. They also have those very distinguished triangular coifs.
When Anna is brought to the palace, we can observe how the image is very clear and light. It goes well with the characters’ clothes. We can also notice that blue and golden are two omnipresent colours, especially in the king’s palace.
When Anna first meets the king, this one wears black. On his shirt, we can observe some little silver rounds. Black is a colour that has often been associated with authority. It is a colour we can associate with feelings of sadness, fear and wickedness. It’s hard to seize the king, and what kind of man he is. So, can we associate this colour to his personality? I think, here, black has a role of domination. It’s an imposing colour and that’s what the king wishes to be.
When Anna arrives at the palace, she also sees Tuptim (Moreno) for the first time. She is brought to the king as a gift and to become one of his several wives. In this first appearance, Tuptim wears a very elegant beige gown with a multitude of white pearls on it. Unlike Anna’s dress, this one is much more, “thin” and follow her body line.
The king’s wives all wear very colourful costumes made of what seems to be silk. Obviously, Siam is a country with a hot weather, explaining why the men are often topless and women’s gowns are made of lightweight fabric. When Anna first meets the wives, we can notice that their clothes are more of light than dark colours. The little kids wear those cute little “hats” that look like buns and long coats decorated with embroideries.
During Anna’s first night at the palace. There’s this funny scene where the king’s wives look at Anna’s dresses in her suitcase. They think those BIG dresses are quite funny. That’s when two completely different cultures meet.
In his next appearance, the king wears dark green, a softer colour than black. It is a colour that matches perfectly his big green ring. The children wear clothes with motifs and they are ready for Anna’s lesson. This one always wears a crinoline dress. The dress is white with blue-green lines on it. There is a little white collar on it and we can notice the black buttons and ribbons. Her son Louis wears a suit that is very similar to the first one, but, this time, it is brown.
During this class scene, it’s funny how we can see how Anna and the children’s clothes look like the world map Anna has brought. Indeed, the children with their very colourful clothes are like the many countries, and Anna, with her big blue dress, is like the ocean. There’s also this humorous moment when Anna dances with a Siamese lady. As the Siamese lady doesn’t wear a big dress like Anna, the children go around her to imitate the shape of a crinoline dress! We can notice, in this scene, the use of red fans.
For her third appearance, Anna first wears a white nightgown. Coquette, but not as large as her day gowns. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be very practical to lay in bed! The king wants to see her (yes, at the middle of the night) so, after having put a blue shawl, she changes her nightgown for more suitable clothes for a meeting with the king. This time, she doesn’t wear a blue dress, but a white one, with lace and a black waist. It is not the type of clothes we’ll have the tendency to wear these days during a night meeting! Because, obviously, we all have meetings with a king in the middle of the night. What? Don’t you? Oh, that’s a shame… 😉
Anyway, during this precise nocturnal meeting. The king wears something that looks a lot like a red pajamas with silver embroideries on it. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure if it was a pyjamas or just some ample clothes… It is the middle of the night, so it’s quite confusing. Red is a colour that is associated with energy, dynamism, and passion and this scene is a proof that the king has all of them! The king’s ample clothes allow him to move easily and with a certain suppleness.
Later during the night, Tuptim’s lover, Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas) comes to the palace to meet her. Thanks to Anna, they can have a secret meeting in the palace gardens. Visually, and thanks to the costumes, this scene is stunning. Tuptim wears a very delicate and light silk gown that makes her look like a fairy. Both Tuptim and Lun Tha wear clothes in the tons of green and blue: An oriental dress for Tuptim and long baggy pants for Lun Tha. We can notice that the Siamese women wear a lot of veil on their clothes. Tuptim doesn’t make an exception in this scene. The colours of Tuptim and Lun Tha’s clothes fit beautifully with the nature around them, the plants, and the water in the king’s gardens, and to the night itself. That’s why it’s such a memorable visual moment.
For his fourth appearance, the king wears a blue shirt with long sleeves and check pants. Kralahome is seen with a black shirt and long red-check pants. It is again a school scene for Deborah Kerr and, once again, this one wears a blue dress, always very simple, with black buttons and a white collar. The clothes of the Siamese women are of darker colours and look more autumnal than the ones at the beginning of the film. But well, Thailand (or Siam if you prefer) never really is a cold country.
Anna’s next costume is seen in this scene where she wishes to live a first time. She is in her bedroom and wears a dress which is more low-necked than the previous ones, and with short sleeves. The very lightweight fabric is light blue and frilled with white embroideries. anna wears a blue ribbon is her hair and more extravagant earrings than the little black ones that she usually wears. The little green ribbons on her dress were chosen perfectly to match the colour of Deborah Kerr eyes. We notice, at this moment, that Anna’s bedroom too is decorated in the tones of blue. Anna’s dress in this scene kind of looks like a big nightgown because of its composition. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s a dress or just something that goes under one like a underskirt or something like that. I mean, why does she changes it when she goes see the king not long after?
The king is then seen in a suit that is in the same shape as is red “pajamas”, but in the tones of brown and golden. The decor behind him is also in those tones. Anna has changed her dress to meet the king. The one she wears is similar to the previous one, but less “sexy”. We can notice the little white lace shoulder pads and the numerous embroideries in the shape of flowers on it. Anna, the king, the children and the wives are then taken to the statue of Buddha. We can see Buddhist monks wearing orange tunics. In Buddhism, orange has always been an important colour as it was known as the colour Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) wore when he renounced worldly life. It is a crucial scene that will convince Anna to stay.
It’s during the ball scene that we’ll see some of the most beautiful costumes. The wives, in this scene, are wearing European dresses, but these ones are very colourful and lack the elegance of Anna’s dresses. They are like a crinoline version of their Siamese gowns. Anna wears a golden dress with pink reflects on it, and baggy sleeves and a big bow on its collar. It certainly is the most elegant, but also the sexiest gown designed by Irene Sharaff for this film. Indeed, unlike most of Deborah Kerr’s previous dress, this one as a large collar that let us see her shoulders. The king notices it, but Anna reassures him that such dresses are quite fashionable in Europe. Anna, of course, wears some accessories to go with the dress, such as elegant long white gloves and a white coif made of pearls in her hair. Deborah Kerr certainly is at the summon of her beauty in this scene.
The European men wear very sober clothes; tuxedos and white shirts, that had nothing to envy to the majestic dress wore by Anna or the flamboyant red ample suit of the king. This one is decorated with golden embroideries, and the king has put a blue banner on his shoulder, which imitates the ones wore by the English gentlemen. He always wears those short baggy pants and this earring that goes so well with the golden details on his red suit. The king also wears a little red hat the same color as his suit. Of course, the European ladies wear crinoline dresses, but unlike Anna’s one, they are more of dark colours. We can notice flowers in the hair of some of them.
To entertain the guest, Tuptim has written her own musical version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The little Thai ballet is presented to them and it’s certainly one of the most memorable moments of the film. In the orchestra, women wear pink (a colour so often associated with feminity) and the men wear orange. Tuptim wears a light pink elegant dress and one of those very heavy and complicated coifs that look like a golden chandelier. These “hats” are a distinguished accessory of the traditional Thai dance costume. The dancers are dressed in red and their faces are painted in white, which makes it look as if they were wearing a mask. Eliza, the main character of the play, wears orange. The mean king Simon Legree wears black, a colour that is obviously associated with fear and authority in this film. With the presence of Buddha, dressed in orange, there is a golden light on the stage which creates a calm and soft atmosphere. It’s important to know that, for the Buddhists, orange is a colour they associate to golden. So, one doesn’t go without the other. Orange is both a warm and bright colour, just like golden.
When Anna later dances with the king, we notice how an amazing visual effect her crinoline dress creates when they spin around the room. The king is barefoot, which allows him to move with more ease. It’s hard to say which kind of shoes Anna wears, simply because we never see them. We might barely see them when she’s dancing, but that’s not long enough to jump to conclusions.
Anna’s last gown is a white one, but it still has little blue reflections. We notice the little organic motifs on it and how the fabric seems to be thick. It is a fabric that looks like the one used for her first dress, so we know it’s probably more practical to travel. Because we know, in this scene, that Anna is on her way to go back home. Her son, Louis, still wears a suit that is so similar to the previous one, but it is dark green this time. When the king’s first wife comes to see Anna to tell her that the king is dying, she wears a black gown. We can easily associate this colour with the idea of mourning. The king is on his deathbed, wearing the same brown as his blanket.
To create all those costumes, Irene Sharaff used a lot of silk, which created a boom in the Thailand silk industry. We notice the use of orange, red and pink which were her favourite colour. Blue is often present, which was a perfectly chosen colour for Deborah Kerr. Even if most of her dresses are blue, they are all unique, because of a little detail, because of their different shape, because it is not always the same blue.
Irene Sharaff managed to create a real visual masterpiece with her original and distinguished fashion creations. The King and I is a movie we don’t forget and the costumes are one of the major elements that explain that.
Irene Sharaff is also known for having designed the costumes of Gaslight, Meet me in St. Louis,The Best Years of Our Lives,An American in Paris, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story,Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe and many others. Apart from The King and I, she also won an Oscar for An American in Paris, West Side Story, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. It is not as much as Edith Head, but it’s something to be proud of!
Wow, I didn’t think I’ll write 3000 words only about the costumes of a movie… Well, looks like there was a lot to say and this certainly was an entertaining writing process. You most forgive me for the poor quality of some pictures or the lack of them to illustrate some of the described costumes, but I must admit that it was hard to find many good and various pictures for the costumes of this film, despite their importance. Obviously, to watch the film always is the best experience. 😉
A big thanks to Christina Wehner and Into the Writer Lea for hosting this glorious blogfest! You can read the other entries here: