The Barrymore Brothers Are Having a Dinner At Eight

Thanks to my friend Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon is back for a third consecutive year! This is the occasion for us to celebrate this notorious family of actors who developed its talent on more than one generation.

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My choice for this year’s edition is Dinner At Eight. As this film stars both Lionel and John Barrymore, we can proudly call it a “Barrymore movie”! But don’t be mistaken, however, John and Lionel don’t play brothers in this flick! The choice was also to my advantage, since, last year, I reviewed a movie with Ethel Barrymore (Portrait of Jennie) and the year before, a film with Drew Barrymore (Ever After). So, I was due to do something about John and/or Lionel. So, why not both?! Plus, Lionel Barrymore is my favourite actor in this family and, neither to say, the one I’m the most familiar with.

When I started watching it for the blogathon (only for the second time in my life), I had completely forgotten it was directed by the one and only George Cukor! Well, we do recognize his distinguished signature with a female cast brilliantly composed. We are introduced to the actors in the opening titles a bit in the same way as we are with 42nd Street or Gold Diggers of 1933. I guess that was fashionable in 1933!

Apart from the two Barrymore, Dinner at Eight also stars Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Billie Burke,  Madge Evans, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Karen Morley, Phillips Holmes, Louise Closser Hale, Grant Mitchell, Hilda Vaughn and May Robson. Quite a gang.

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All these actors are all worth mentioning as they all have their respective importance in the film. You see, Dinner at Eight is one of these pictures having for major quality the composition of the characters.

What we see in this film is everything that happens before the famous dinner. Millicent Jordan (Billie Burke) is organizing a dinner for Lord and Lady Ferncliffe that she had met in England with her husband Oliver (Lionel Barrymore). Through the film, we discover the various guesses and their respective personal problems:

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Oliver himself isn’t feeling too well and we discover later that it might be more serious than he thinks.

Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler), a one-time great actress, is now broke and dealing with her downhill. Luckily, a great sense of humor keeps her alive.

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Mr. and Mrs. Jordan’s daughter, Paula (Madge Evans), is ready to put an end to her engagement with Ernest (Phillips Holmes) as she is now in love with the much older actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore).

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On his side, Larry Renault, just like Carlotta Vance, has to struggle with his lack of money and the fact that he is now a washed-up actor. More tragic than Carlotta tho, he finds refuge in alcohol.

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Businessman Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) and his wife Kitty (Jean Harlow) are constantly fighting. Kitty has a maid, Tina (Hilda Vaughn) who is the most patient person ever (and who looks like one of the extra-dancers in Hair by the way).

And Kitty is having an affair with Dr. Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) who is quite lucky to have a wife (Karen Morley), who loves him (despite everything).

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Hattie (Louise Closser Hale) and Ed Loomis (Grant Mitchell) are last minute guesses so we don’t dig much into their life. However, Ed would prefer to be at the movies seeing the last Garbo picture.

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Finally, Millie has to deal with the obvious problems that come with the organization of such a dinner, and her cook, Mrs. Wendel (May Robson), is having trouble with the lion-shape aspic.

I think, with this kind of film, a presentation of the characters was in order. Apart from the fact that the two Barrymore don’t play brothers in this film, they are actually never seen in a scene together. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed by this aspect (because it would have been epic). They play, however, two very different types of characters.

On his side, Lionel is the wise and patient one who tries to see a positive point to life even in a critical situation. On his side, John is the tragical one, whose life became theatrical just like his profession. Both are great in their respective roles. Dinner at Eight confirms us Lionel Barrymore versatility as an actor as his character is quite different (and much more sympathetical) than Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life for example. If I’m not mistaken, this is the earlier film of his I’ve seen. Actually, it would be Free & Easy, but he only has a cameo scene in this one so it doesn’t really count. Lionel Barrymore’s scenes with Marie Dressler are among the best things in this film. We feel an instant chemistry between those two veterans of the silver screen. Carlotta Vance and Oliver Jordan redefine the meaning of deep friendship. We also witness a very touching scene between him and Billie Burke toward the end of the film. Moral of the story: love is sometimes stronger than anything else.

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I’m less familiar with John Barrymore, having seen only two of his films, but I’ve noticed how he has such a strong on-screen presence. In a scene, he is the center of attention and he doesn’t need to do much to be so. Simply by standing there, he emits an incredible charisma. And that profile! I think we all agree, it’s one of the most famous profiles of cinema history. Of course, we never lose an occasion of seeing it. Just before his first scene, Billie Burke is talking about him with  Louise Closser Hale and this one praises his  “most heavenly profile” and then, the next shot is one of him standing in a hotel room, his iconic profile to the camera. What is fascinating about John Barrymore in this film is to see the evolution of his character and how he chooses to act according to it. His performance is more and more intense as the film evolves. Remember this scene when he looks at himself in the mirror after his agent told us that his career is over? Mirror scenes are often a symbol of existential questions such as “what will become of me?” in movies.

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There’s no need to say that 1933 was a strong year in cinema with movies such as this one, but also Gold Diggers of 1933, 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Little Women or The Private Life of Henry VIII. Movies of the 30s had a sort of class that could never be topped and Dinner at Eight is one of the best examples. I love all the fancy high society set of the whole thing with dreamy designs and costumes to die for. I bet you won’t be surprised if I tell you that these were designed by Adrian! I think the most impressive gowns are Jean Harlow’s ones. By the way, her character in this film kind of makes me think of me for the reason that staying in bed all day while eating chocolate is totally my style (I’m lazy). But back to Adrian. What I love about his costumes, is how light they seem to be. He also manages to keep it simple, but yet, immensely divine. And boy! I have a friend whose favourite colour is white. That may seem weird, but when I see Adrian’s costumes that glorify this colour, I completely understand why!

The script of this film is interesting. It was based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. However, screenwriters Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, and director George Cuckor managed to give it a cinematographic dimension by making it dynamic enough for a movie. I like how the scenes alternate telling us what’s becoming of each character. As a matter of fact, except at the end, we rarely see a scene with more than three characters or so. The film also contains some memorable lines such as:

1 -Kitty: [Final lines] I was reading a book the other day.

Carlotta: [Nearly trips] Reading a book?

2- Miss Copeland: You were wonderful!

Carlotta Vance: Yes, that was the last thing I did.

Miss Copeland: I remember it as plain as if it were yesterday.

Carlotta Vance: Hmm.

Miss Copeland: Though I was only a little girl at the time.

Carlotta Vance: How extraordinary!

Miss Copeland: Oh, it’s wonderful, seeing you like this.

Carlotta Vance: Yes, it ’tis. You know, we must have a long talk about the Civil War sometime. Just you and I. (Poor Mrs. Vance!)

3-Dan Packard: Remember what I told you last week?

Kitty Packard: I don’t remember what you told me a minute ago.

4- Larry Renault: Listen to me old-timer. I’m drunk, and I know I’m drunk but I know what I’m talking about.

5- Hattie Loomis: [responding to Millicent Jordans’ upset about a dinner guest cancelling] I never could understand why it has to be just even, male and female. They’re invited for dinner, not for mating.

6- Carlotta Vance: Remember? They named everything after me: cigars, racehorses, perfumes, battleships!

7- Dan Packard: That’s no elevator. That’s a birdcage!

8- Hattie Loomis: Ed hates anything that keeps him from going to the movies every night. I guess I’m what’s called a Garbo widow.

9-Dr. Wayne Talbot: Oh, she’s not really sick, you know, woman with a lot of time on her hands, I prescribed a sedative, but she doesn’t really need anything.

Mrs. Lucy Talbot: How about an apple a day?

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These are just a few examples. Of course, there’s all the fuss about the famous aspic too. Delightful.

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So, Dinner at Eight is one hell of an intriguing film, and if you like the Barrymore, I highly recommend you to see it (the rest of the cast is pretty swell too!).

Last August 15, we celebrated Ethel Barrymore’s birthday, so I’m wishing her a very happy heavenly birthday one more time! 🙂 The Barrymore are legendary. Respect.

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A big thanks to Crystal for hosting this blogathon again!

Don’t forget to read the other entries of course. 🙂

The Third Annual Barrymore Blogathon.

See you!

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Top of the World: My Hitchcock Day + Some Top Lists

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Well, yesterday was this time of the year where I do my usual Hitchcock movie marathon in honour of him. My favourite movie director would have been 118 years old! Even if he is no longer with us since a long time, many continue to celebrate his timeless work. I started my little marathon Saturday by watching one of his early British films, Murder! starring the great Herbert Marshall in one of his very first roles. I’ve always loved that film. It has all the ingredients of a perfect Hitchcock film, except maybe a cold blond! Well, there is a blond girl, but she isn’t exactly the Hitchcock-type. Then, yesterday morning I watched Family Plot, Hitchcock’s very last film. Without being a masterpiece, this film featuring a score by no one else than John Williams is a great entertainment. The cast composed of Barbara Harris, Bruce Dern, Karen Black and William Devane is one of the elements that make it worthy. They are all perfect in their respective roles. It’s fun to think, when you watch that film, that almost 50 years before he released The Lodger! Hitchcock considered this film to be his first one, although he directed a few before (unfortunately, most of them are now lost or partially lost).

After a little pause to do some exercise, I went back on the couch and watched Saboteur. This early 40s film is one where so much is going on! Have you ever thought of taking a trip to Soda City? Well, that ain’t much of a town, but it certainly leads our heroes, Barry Kane and Pat Martin, to some important elements of investigation.

Yesterday, I also made an exception and instead of listening some David Bowie music (like I usually do) I listened to some Alfred Hitchcock movie scores (sorry David!). It’s always great to listen to Miklós Rózsa‘s score for Spellbound while doing the dishes. It’s my favourite movie score of all time and being very dynamic it helps me do things faster.

I also spent some time outside painting 3 little paintings illustrating Alfred Hitchcock movies: The Trouble With Harry, Suspicion and The Birds. I can’t show them to you now as I have not scanned them, but I certainly hope to do so as soon as possible.

Finally, I ended my day by watching Lifeboat and Foreign Correspondent. I chose these two films as I had only seen them once. Both excellent of course.

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Because I watched all these films, I didn’t have time to write a long tribute to Hitchcock. I already did it as a matter of fact, but I think I’m due for some little top lists. I’m not ready yet for the ultimate Hitchcock top list (ranking all his films), but I’ll see you next year for that. You see, next winter I’ll be attending a seminar on Hitchcock and Welles and I intend to have seen all of the Master of Suspense’s films before the classes start! Be reassured, there isn’t many more left as I’ve already seen 47 of them. 🙂 Unfortunately, there are a few that I’m afraid will be difficult to find (anyone as ever seen Elstree Calling?), but I’ll try my best!

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to make it easier for me and present you a little top 5 for each decade where Hitch released movies, going from the 20s to the 70s.

I don’t like to repeat myself, but don’t forget that these lists are purely subjective and represent my own tastes so I only ask you to respect them. Thank you!

The 20s:

1- The Lodger: Story of the London Fog (1927)

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I put this one at the first place as I remember being very impressed by it the first time I saw it.

2- The Farmer’s Wife (1928)

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Not a typical Hitchcock’s film, but certainly a fun one. A bit long though.

3- Blackmail (1929)

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Hitchcock’s first talking picture and also England’s first talking picture! Just that priceless scene makes it worthy:

4- The Manxman (1929)

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Another Hitchcock film starring the beautiful Anny Ondra. Not an excellent film and I honestly don’t remember much of it, but there was some beautiful cinematography. I once made a joke with a shot from the film. What do you think of it?

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5- Downhill (1927)

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The two left for me were these ones and The Ring. I chose Downhill since it stars the great Ivor Novello. There’s a shot in this film that makes me think of The Graduate. See?

The 30s:

1- The Lady Vanishes (1938)

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Well, that was an easy-peasy first choice as it is one of my very favourite Hitchcock films and the funniest also (without neglecting the great suspense). I love everything about it, especially the colourful characters. Saw it too many, but still not enough times.

2- Young and Innocent (1937)

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This film made me discover Nova Pilbeam who was only 18, but brilliant when she starred in it. It’s the first British Hitchcock’s film I saw and I’ve always enjoyed it immensely. The scene where the spectators discover where the real murderer is hidden is one of my very favourite!

3- The 39 Steps (1935)

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Certainly considered a masterpiece, this film can be cited among the perfect Hitchcock’s films (and this time, the cold blond isn’t missing!).

4- Murder! (1930)

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Once again, Hitchcock combines suspense, tragedy, and humour brilliantly here.

5- Secret Agent (1936)

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I’ve always loved this film for its cast: John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll, Peter Lorre, Robert Young, Percy Marmont and Lilli Palmer. Do you need more? Peter Lorre is unforgettable!

The 40s:

1- Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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Another one of my very favourite Hitchcock’s films and I believe that Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) is one of Hitchcock’s best villains.

2- Rebecca (1940)

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I love both the book and the film. Perfect.

3- Spellbound (1945)

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I’ve always found this film highly fascinating. The dream sequence by Dalí was a great addition to this film and Dr. Constance Pertersen (Ingrid Bergman) is my favourite Hitchcock’s female character. And Gregory Peck is so handsome!

4- Lifeboat (1944)

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Hitchcock certainly knew how to develop a great story in such a small space!

5- Saboteur (1942)

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I hesitated between this one, Notorious and Suspicion (all excellent). I choose Saboteur because it’s a movie that never fails to grab my attention. It’s great to think that one of the members of its cast, Norma Lloyd, is still with us today!

The 50s:

1- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

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And this is my very favourite Hitchcock’s film and also my 4th favourite movie of all times behind Some Like It Hot, Bringing Up Baby and It’s a Wonderful Life. James Stewart and Doris Day form an excellent duo and I love how Hitchcock makes us travel from Marrakesh, Morroco to London, England. It’s an adventure full of delightful suspense!

2- Strangers on a Train (1951)

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Ok, that film is just… wow! Next to Charlie Oakley, Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) is the other very best Hitchcock villain. That carousel scene is unforgettable. Well, the whole movie is. Plus, I love its black and white cinematography and the shots of the railways (seen from a moving train point of view).

3- Rear Window (1954)

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James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter (at her best), Edith Head’s costumes, etc… And to me, this is the Hitchcock’s film with the best suspense. Never tired of watching it, even after 50 times.

4- To Catch a Thief (1955)

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I remember, this is the 2nd Hitchcock’s film I ever saw and I’ve always loved it. Last Friday, I saw it on big screen for the second time! It simply makes me want to travel the French Riviera!

5- North by Northwest (1959)

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This once was my favourite Hitchcock film. Not anymore, but I still love it very much. Worthy for that plane scene, and more of course!

The 60s and the 70s. I combined those two decades since he only made 2 movies in the 70s (so it would be difficult to do a top 5, you know…):

1- The Birds (1963)

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This is the first Hitchcock film I saw and it fascinated me the first time I watched it (so much that I decided to watch it a second time in the same weekend). It has its faults, but it certainly needs to be seen by all Hitchcock’s fans. Probably his most iconic one along with Psycho. And it’s not because of that film that I’m afraid of pigeons, ok? (There aren’t any pigeons in it anyway).

2- Frenzy (1972)

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Quite an overlooked Hitchcock’s film. Immensely thrilling.

3- Family Plot (1976)

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Hitchcock’s last film and a fun one, but I’ve already said a few words about it earlier!

4- Psycho (1960)

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It’s not my favourite Hitchcock film, but it certainly is a worthy one. That scene where Lila Crane (Vera Miles) “discovers” Mrs. Bates is priceless (along with the famous shower scene, of course).

5- Marnie (1964)

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I always tend to forget that Sean Connery starred in a Hitchcock’s film. Well, there was one and it is the underrated Marnie, the second Hitchcock film starring Tippi Hedren (the first one being The Birds). I think the main flaw of this film is being a bit long for what it is (I mean, it’s not Gone With the Wind after all), but overall it’s a good one.

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Well, if you haven’t seen many Hitchcock’s films, I hope these ones can be used as suggestions! If you did anything special on this Hitch day, please don’t hesitate to share it with me in the comments!

Happy heavenly birthday again Sir Alfred Hitchcock! And also, happy heavenly birthday to his wife Alma Reville! She was a screenwriter, editor, and co-director who had an important influence on his career. 🙂

By the way, if you want to read more of my Hitchcock’s related articles, I invite you to click on the links in blue!

BIO ALFRED HITCHCOCK

 

 

The Ballet Scenes from Les Uns et les Autres (1981)

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Last February, I saw a ballet for the first time. It was Swan Lake and it was beautiful. Dance and cinema are two things that always fascinated me. As Christina from Christina Wehner and Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood prove us with their En Pointe: the Ballet Blogathon, this dance style could be included in movies on several occasions. My choice for the blogathon is Claude Lelouch’s French film Les Uns et Les Autres, which contains some of my favourite dance numbers in a movie. The film is a complex one, so here I’ll really be only focusing on the ballet scenes only.

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Les Uns et les Autres is a great fresco depicting the lives of four different families on three different generations. Some actors play more than one role. For example, James Caan (from the American family) plays both Jack Gleen and his son Jason Glenn.

But let’s move to the dancing aspects of the film right now. Forget about the pink tutus, Les Uns et Les Autres challenges the clichés.

The audition

The film starts in Moscow in 1936. Tatiana (Belgium dancer Rita Poelvoorde) auditions to become Bolchoï’s first dancer. One of the judges, Boris Itovitch (Argentinian dancer Jorge Donn) falls under her charm. Tatiania fails to become the star of the Bolchoï, but she eventually marries Boris.

This first ballet scene is a simple, but a beautiful one. Here, the dancers are dressed in white. There are no extravagances as the first objective is to show us dance, not a fashion show. The camera revolves around the dancers to show us the moves on various angles. In this scene, there’s an alternation between the two ballerinas dancing and Boris’s reacting shots. He is obviously charmed by this thin white angel that Tatiana is. The ballerinas dance on Ravel’s Bolero, which will take an important place in this film.

 

Sergei’s Solo

Tatiana and Boris have a son, Sergei (also played by Jorge Donn), who later becomes a great dancer like his parents.

In this scene, he dances alone in a palace in front of a crowd of rich people. He wears gold and red pants and a red scarf in his hair. With his impressive talent, we can’t deny that he has inherited his parent’s passion for dance. This scene contains a few slow motions which allow us to husk the dancing movements. The room where he dances is a magnificent one with its large mirrors, its chandeliers, and its gilding. The chosen music for this scene is the energetic 4th movement from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.

 

Apocalypse Ballet

This really is one of my favourite parts of the film. A filming crew is shooting a dance sequence. Everything starts slowly. Three men in white walk slowly surrounded by dense smoke. A funeral procession passes next to them. Suddenly, Michel Legrand’s musical theme for the film explodes and the dancers, wearing white and grey one-pieces, appears. They dance without stopping to advance. They are indeed surrounded by a real apocalypse: smoke, car accident, fire fighters, a helicopter, flames, etc. Here we are far from the prestigious palace where Sergei was dancing and we explore the creepy corners of a city. I love this scene for its dynamic staging, the music and the choreography itself, of course.

 

Dancing for the Red Cross

In this scene, we find back Sergei for an unforgettable final. Yes, this is the final scene of the film, but I encourage you to watch it now. As a matter of fact, I saw it before seeing the film and it just made me want to see it, you know. And, honestly, it doesn’t really spoil the story. It could perfectly have been the opening scene, followed by a long flashback. The scene takes place in Paris next to the Eiffel Tower. A ballet show is organized by the Red Cross. Sergei dances on a red platform surrounded by dancers dressed in black and white. Not long after the dance has started, Sarah Glenn (Geraldine Chaplin) daughter of Suzanne Glenn (also played by Geraldine Chaplin) and Jack Glenn (James Caan) appears on the top of the Eiffel Tower and accompanies the music with her singing voice. She is accompanied by Patrick Pratt (Manuel Gelin), also a singer. We can see in this scene that Sergei hasn’t lost his talent as a dancer. Jorge Donn moves with an impressive grace which makes him look like he’s flying. He almost makes ballet looks easy (in a good way), but we all know it’s not! What I also love about this scene is that it reunites all the still living characters of the film. Some are watching the show live, some are watching it on their television at home. It makes us realize that Les Uns et les Autres reunites quite an amazing all-star cast. Everybody watches the show religiously, but with a glimpse of nostalgia or, for some, of melancholy, in their eyes. Just like the audition scene, the chosen music here is Ravel’s Bolero, and it’s glorious.

When you’ll watch the clip, you can skip the first 3:30 minutes.

 

This scene definitely is one of my most favourite movie scenes ever. I love it because they kept it simple, but, yet, it manages to be majestic.

A big thanks to Michaela and Christina for hosting this blogathon! 🙂 I sure hope you took a look at all the clips!

Makes sure to check the other entries. 🙂

En Pointe: the Ballet Blogathon

See you!

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A British Chorus Line: A Girl Must Live (1939)

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Unlike Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz, A Girl Must Live is far from being 1939’s most well-known film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. I’m reviewing this film for the Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by Terrence from A Shroud of Thoughts. As I’m always willing to promote some Margaret Lockwood’s film, this certainly is for me the best occasion for me to discuss this film.

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A Girl Must Live reunites Margaret Lockwood and notorious director Carol Reed for the fourth time after Midshipman Easy (1935), Who’s Your Lady Friend? (1937) and Bank Holiday (1938). The film also stars German actress Lili Palmer, Renée Houston, Hugh Sinclair, Naunton Wayne, George Robey, Mary Clare and more. The film was based on the 1937’s novel by Emery Bonnett.

Margaret Lockwood plays a young woman who aspires to become a stage star. She runs away from her finish school is Switzerland and, under the suggestion of her friends, chooses a new identity in order to increase her chances. She is now Leslie James, daughter of the famous Leslie James. In the boarding house ruled by the lively Mrs. Wallis (Mary Clare), she meets Gloria (Renée Houston) and Clytie (Lilli Palmer), two chorus girls who fight constantly and who are both attracted to wealthy men. Not long after Leslie, Gloria and Clytie manage to join a chorus line, the rich (and single) Earl of Pangborough (Hugh Sinclair) comes to town accompanied by Gloria’s cousin, Hugo Smythe (Nauton Wayne). Obviously, Gloria, and Clytie will each tempt to seduce the Earl, being more attracted by his money than by his personality. This only increases their usual rivalry. However, when the Earl meets Leslie, he seems to find her much more interesting than the two crazy blond girls (because yes, they are crazy!).

A Girl Must Live mixes drama, comedy, and music. We can really call it a musical as the moments where the girls dance and sing are rare, but it gives us a lovely preview of how Margaret Lockwood could manage to be the star of a musical. After her successes with Bank Holiday and The Lady Vanishes, it is obvious that Margaret was an increasing star (and would become UK’s most popular actress in the 40s). 1939 was a year of self-research for Margaret as she tempted to start a career in Hollywood. That was not a success and, uncomfortable in the city of angels, she preferred to go back to England and that’s where she did her best work anyway. A Girl Must Live will never be considered a “masterpiece”, but it’s much better than Susannah of the Mounties.

The comic essence of the film is established from the beginning when Margaret Lockwood escapes from the school. Martita Hunt plays the principal. She is proud, but it’s hard to take her seriously as her manners are rather amusing. After falling on her poor butt, “Leslie James” is now ready to conquer the world. This scene is also an emotional one as the young lady also has to say goodbye to her school friends, whom she will probably not see before a long time.

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We never really heard Margaret singing in this film, but there’s this scene where she is part of the chorus line stage number. In her solo, she talks more than she sings, but, nevertheless, she remains lovely.

There’s also this scene where she practices her tap dance. She’s so cute and amusing. Unfortunately, the scene lasts about 10 seconds. In 1945’s, Margaret starred in Val Guest’s historical musical I’ll Be Your Sweetheart, where we could see much more of her singing. However, her singing voice was dubbed by Maudie Edwards. Despite that, both A Girl Must Live and I’ll Be Your Sweetheart proves us that Margaret could have the perfect acting skills to rock a musical. Because, let’s not forget that she was, first of all, an actress and not a singer.

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Margaret Lockwood’s chemistry with Hugh Sinclair is a convincing one. I love the fact that they always meet each other in awkward situations where the poor lady is rarely properly dressed.

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You want some catfights? Well, Renée Houston and Lilli Palmer will offer you plenty of that. At one point, they even fight like knights using pokers as swords. In one of their greatest battles, a man delivers flowers for one of them. The flowers come from the rich Horace Blount ( George Robey). He’s waiting outside in his car. But he hasn’t chosen a good moment for his delivery as the flowers are thrown by the window during the fight and they fall around Mr. Blount’s neck. Even if the two girls are always fighting, there also is an unhealthy chemistry between the two. Somehow, they make me think a little bit of Bette Cooper and Veronica Lodge who always fight over Archie Andrews. Their moments of peace are rare, though.

Except for the amusing story truffled with numerous gags and the colourful characters, what I always liked about A Girl Must Live are the costumes. Those are simply lovely and suit perfectly the personality of each character.

A Girl Must Live is not really Carol Reed’s most well-known film, but it is the proof that he was able to direct comedies as much as he was able to direct films noir (Odd Man Out, The Third Man), war movies (Night Train to Munich) or dramas (The Stars Look Down, Trapeze). He chose Margaret Lockwood as his fetish actress and was always able to give her roles that suited her perfectly.

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If you haven’t seen A Girl Must Live yet, I highly encourage you to do so. The film has nothing to envy to Busby Berkeley’s musicals of the 30s, but it’s a great entertainment and will only increase your knowledge of classic British films.

And here is a link for you to watch it. 🙂

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A big thanks to Terence for hosting this always fun blogathon. Don’t forget to check the other entries!

The Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon

See you!

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The Dark Secret of The House on Telegraph Hill

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Have you ever planned to murder your husband or your wife? Me neither. I’m not married anyway. But that’s the type of conspiracy we saw more than once in the “wonderful world of cinema” and it’s not about to stop. However, as creepy as it may sound, this is the type of ambitions that can make a film strangely entertaining. Alfred Hitchcock, of course, was a master at that type of films with movies like Notorious or Dial M for Murder, but he was not the only one to excel at delivering us those thrilling husband vs. wife misadventures. Theresa Brown from CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch is hosting the ‘Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon which explores this type of movies. I’m glad to take part of it with my own review of The House on Telegraph Hill, a 1951 movie directed by Mr. Versatile Director: Robert Wise, and starring Valentina Cortese, Richard Basehart, William Ludingan and Fay Baker.

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By the way, I didn’t remember how great this film was before re-watching it for the blogathon. So, if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so.

Also, before going further, it’s my duty to tell you that this article will include major spoilers since I’ll be talking about it from A to Z.

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Where is Telegraph Hill? And where is this house at the heart of the story? In San Francisco, but everything starts in Poland during the Second World War. A woman’s voice-over introduces her own story to us from the first minutes of the film. She is Victoria Kowelska (Valentia Cortese). She has lost her husband during the war and her house has been destroyed by the Germans. She was deported to a concentration camp in Belsen. There, she met Karin Dernakova (Natasha Lytess) with whom she became great friends. Unfortunately, due to her poor health, Karin eventually died in the camp. To her great sorrow, Victoria has lost a good friend, but this situation was a way for her to have a better life. She knew that Karin has a son who lives with her rich aunt Sophia in San Francisco. So, she decided to take Karin’s papers and renounced her own identity.

When the camp is finally liberated, Victoria (now Karin) is questioned by Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan), an American. The poor woman bursts into tears during the interview. Is it because she is presenting herself under a false identity? Is it because she is thinking of the horrors of the camp and the loss of her friend Karin? Probably both. Fortunately, Major Bennett is a kind man and tempts to reassure her. When Victoria leaves his office, he makes her notice that she has forgotten something. It’s her own passport. She tells the major that this passport belonged to her friend Victoria (who is, in fact, herself), but now that she is dead, she doesn’t need it anymore. So, Victoria tears it in two and definitely loses her real identity.

Victoria is then deported to a camp for persons displaced by the war where she communicates with Aunt Sophia. A cold answer comes a few days after: aunt Sophia is dead. The poor Victoria sees her dreams of going to America fading away, but her ambition is still there. Four years after she received the letter, Victoria manages to travel to New-York, where she makes the acquaintance of Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), Christopher’s guardian and a distant relative of aunt Sophia. It doesn’t take long for both of them to be charmed by each other and eventually get married. They moved to San Francisco to the house on Telegraph Hill, where Victoria finally makes the acquaintance of Karin’s son, Christopher (Gordon Gebert). But, now, she is the one who has to play the role of his mother. The moment where they first see each other is at first a bit awkward for both of them because, 1- Christopher hasn’t seen his mom in 9 years (when she send him to the US, he was just a baby) and 2- Victoria knows she is not Christopher’s real mom. Fortunately, our protagonist has a maternal instinct and they won’t take long before getting to know each other better and truly appreciate each other.

Karin now lives in a beautiful mansion and wears gowns to make every woman with good tastes jealous. Those were designed by Renié, and are the pure definition of elegance. She has a new husband whom she loves very much and lives a wealthy life.

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However, Victoria’s new happiness is only a brief illusion. Even since the first night in her new home, we can feel a certain discomfort. Like many people in a new and unknown place, she has difficulty sleeping, despite being in a much more comfortable place than a concentration camp.

But this is normal no? I mean, who wouldn’t have trouble sleeping in such a situation? After having lived such events?

The real obstacle that is placed in Victoria’s way is Margaret (Fay Baker), Christopher’s governess. There’s something about this film that can make us think a bit of Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940): Victoria marries a man she barely knows, they move to a beautiful mansion and she has to face a jealous domestic, Margaret that is. From her first on-screen minutes, we feel the cold tone of her voice and guess she isn’t particularly happy having Karin (Victoria) intruding her life. As she was the one who took care of Christopher during 9 years and not Karin, it is obvious that she feels like a mother to him. Tired of Margaret’s opposition to her, Victoria fires her, but Alan reasons her explaining that she can’t fire someone who worked for them for 9 years just like that. Victoria realizes her mistake and Margaret remains part of the house. After offering her apologies to Victoria, she somehow becomes a  more agreeable person (but she doesn’t smile very much so she keeps that ounce of creepiness).

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One afternoon, Victoria discovers something rather odd. While she is playing baseball with Chris (who now treats her like a real mother) the ball gets lost in the grass and Victoria goes after it. She arrives next to a little playhouse with broken windows. Victoria is intrigued, but Chris begs her not to go inside as it is a dangerous place. Victoria, too curious, doesn’t listen to him and enters. The chaos that she finds there has nothing very attractive and the place is, indeed, a dangerous one. There is a big hole in a part of the floor and a part of the wall and whoever might step into it would fall in the streets of San Francisco from a great height. Chris explains to her “mother” that this hole was caused by an explosion from his chemistry set. Victoria to talk about it with Alan,  but Chris begs her not to tell him as he apparently doesn’t know. Later, she talks about it with Margaret, who doesn’t see either the purpose of talking about it with Alan since the boy was not hurt during the explosion.

During the evening, the Spender receive guesses at their house, one of them being Major Mark Bennett. Recognizing him, Victoria first tries to hide in order to avoid an awkward situation. When she doesn’t have the choice to face him, Mark recognizes her but is not 100% sure who she is. She refreshes his memory and finally realises that she has nothing to be afraid of and can enjoy an evening in his company.

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Later, Victoria returns to the playhouse and it’s there that everything changes for good. She investigates the place when she is surprised by Alan. He wonders what she is doing here with a smile on his face, but this is exactly a pleasant smile. He makes a step toward her, she steps back, with fear in her eyes, and fall in the hole. Luckily, Alan catches her in time. From this moment, Victoria’s attitude toward Alan changes: she is afraid of him and always seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

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Not long after, Victoria is supposed to go to town with Chris. This one finally can go as he has to finish cleaning his room. So, Victoria goes alone. While she is going down a street, she wants to brake, but realises that the brakes aren’t working. Then starts a furious stroll in the streets of San Francisco similar to the one in Hitchcock’s Family Plot. Victoria manages to stop the car by bumping in a pile of sand. She is physically not hurt, but mentally it is different. When she realises that Chris was supposed to be in the car with her, a reasoning is quickly made in her head: Alan wants her and Chris to be dead. Why? Because he’ll be the one inheriting aunt Sophia’s money.

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She talks about it with Mark, but this one doesn’t think Alan is a murdered, despite not liking him very much. They, however, start their investigation, but, each time Victoria tries to reach Mark (to whom she has finally revealed her own identity), it seems that Alan is in her way. Without revealing it out loud, we know that he knows that she knows. However, he still continues to play the game of the worried husband.

A log is added to the fire of suspicion when Victoria discovers an article about aunt Sophie’s death in Margaret’s scrapbook. She realizes that she received that telegram announcing her death actually three days BEFORE the real date of her death. It is obvious to her that Alan got rid of aunt Sophia with his own head, in order to access fastly to the fortune.

But is Victoria right? Could sweet face Alan Spender really be a murderer? Is she only imagining things like Lina (Joan Fontaine) in Suspicion?  Well, unfortunately, she has it right from A to Z. And this slowly leads us to the thrilling ending of this film.

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During the “last supper” Victoria is tense since she hasn’t managed to reach Mark all day (she was always surprised by Alan). She can’t eat a thing so she decides to go to the office to read. She is soon followed by Alan, who seems decided to watch her. When they go to bed, Alan prepares their usual before-bedtime glass of orange juice. However, Victoria hears him putting something in her glass. Is it poison? She asks Alan to go take her book in the library which he does, and she takes the occasion to call the police. Unfortunately, as the phone in the library is off the hook, she is unable to make a call. From the library, Alan listens to her “help!” with an evil smile on his face.

When Alan comes back to the bedroom and realizes Victoria hasn’t drunk her orange juice, he convinces her to do so. They finally drink their respective glass of juice by looking at each other in the eyes. That is a very tense moment in the film. Knowing that his wife is now about to die (because yes, he DID put something in the juice), he confesses the murders and the reason, which was, indeed, money. He tells her that he has put a whole box of sedatives in her orange juice in order to kill her. Panicked, Victoria begs him to call a doctor, but not for her: for him! While he was in the library, she put her orange juice in the pitcher and put in her glass what was initially the pitcher. So, Alan is the one who drank the juice full of sedatives. Alan is not feeling well and goes to Margaret. Victoria is looking for Chris (whom she thinks has been “kidnapped” by Margaret, who has always menaced to take him with her). She finds him yes, with Margaret, but they still are in the house. He is sleeping in Margaret’s bedroom and she is taking care of him. Alan claims that Victoria tried to kill him, but with a ton a panic, she has to convince Margaret that he wanted to kill her. Alan begs the governess to call a doctor, but, when she realises that he tried to kill Christopher too, she doesn’t call him. Margaret and Alan, who were lovers, were supposed to get rid of the family to live a rich life together, but let him kill Chris? That is something Margaret would never have allowed.

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Without a doctor, Alan can’t do much for his life so he dies. When the police investigate, it is discovered that Margaret never called a doctor so she is arrested for murder. Poor Margaret! Victoria and Mark, who know that she has somehow nothing to do with Alan’s death offers all the help they can to get her out of this mess.

Victoria now has nothing to do anymore in the house on Telegraph Hill. So, with her only suitcase in hand, she leaves the house with Chris and Mark in order to finally begin, we hope, a somehow normal life.

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It is not really surprising that Alan should be the victim of his own crimes. In the Production Code Era, a murderer had to be punished. However, the real surprise eventually resides in the way he becomes the victim. Clever little Victoria!

From 1951 to 1960, Italian actress Valentina Cortese and Richard Basehart were married. They fell in love while filming this film. Despite playing opponents, we seize their beautiful chemistry in the film. It is really because of Richard Basehart that I first decided to watch The House on Telegraph Hill since he was an actor that has always intrigued me. No regrets.  As the villain with a calm temperament, he is quite different from the nervous and suicidal Robert Cosick from 14 Hours! Valentina Cortese is an actress all in elegance who delivers a convincing performance. Her chemistry with William Lundigan is the definition of friendship and make their moments together highly appreciated.

The House on Telegraph Hill is not a so well-known film, but it deserves more recognition. It has a dose of suspense that many will appreciate.

A big thanks to Theresa for hosting this blogathon! I invite you to check the other entries. The link will be live on July 24th!

‘Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon

See you!

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