Saturday, July 14, 2018

Under Capricorn (1949)



When everyone is a convict, who can you trust?

The year is 1831. Convict ships transport prisoners from the British Empire to the penal colony of Australia. They also bring with them gentleman looking to make their fortune in a new land. When Charles Adare (Michael Wilding) arrives in Sydney seeking a business opportunity to make him rich, he meets wealthy landowner and ex-convict Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotten). As the to partner on a business deal, Adare discovers that Flusky's wife, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), is his old schoolmate from Ireland. She's in a terrible state and he takes pity on her. The Flusky household is run completely by ex-convicts and the overbearing housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton), who has designs on replacing the lady of the house, is slipping alcohol into Henrietta making her dependent on alcohol. When Adare discovers this he tries to save Henrietta and Sam from their sad state of affairs, he gets more than he bargained for. Will the Flusky's dark secret destroy them or will Adare be able to save the day?


"Tomorrow will look after itself."

Under Capricorn (1949) is an unusual entry into Alfred Hitchcock's filmography. The master of suspense opted to work on a costume drama instead of the thrillers he was known for. The story was based on a novel by Helen Simpson which was also a play by John Colton and Margaret Linden. It was adapted for the screen by actor Hume Cronyn (who also adapted Rope) and screenwriter James Bridie. Why did Hitchcock pick this work to direct?  When asked about this in his conversation with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock replied,

 "I had no special admiration for the novel, and I don't think I would have made the picture if it hadn't been for Ingrid Bergman. At the time she was the biggest star in America."

In 1947, Hitchcock and his business partner Sidney Bernstein started Transatlantic Pictures. Their first film Rope (1948) was an experiment in filmmaking. It was Hitchcock's first shot in color and it has become legendary for its long ten minute takes and very little editing. With Under Capricorn, Hitchcock continued the experiment with color and more long shots but it didn't work out as well in this second venture. In conversation with Truffaut about the film, Hitchcock said,

"No doubt about it; films must be cut. As an experiment, Rope may be forgiven, but it was definitely a mistake when I insisted on applying the same techniques to Under Capricorn."

Because of the caliber Bergman brought to the production, Hitchcock felt the need to make Under Capricorn a big production and spent roughly $2.5 million, a lot for the late 1940s, on the movie. Unfortunately, like Rope, Under Capricorn was a box office failure. Both films suffered from scandal. Rope was banned in several markets because of the implied homosexuality and Under Capricorn's star Bergman had an extramarital affair with director Robert Rossellini that effectively put her Hollywood career on hold. After the release of Under Capricorn, the Bankers Trust Company, which had financed the film, repossessed it. The film was not shown again to the public until CBS acquired the rights in 1967. They've owned it ever since.

Under Capricorn is a lesser known Hitchcock film and there is a good reason why. There is no suspense, no thrill, just a lot of melodrama and dialogue. It's easy to make connections to previous Hitchcock films like Rebecca (housekeeper vs. wife), Notorious (poisoning) and Rope (dark secret, experimental filmmaking). But this is not as good as those films. It is worth watching to see how this fits in Hitchcock's filmography and for Bergman's performance. She has a long dramatic retelling of a murder which could have been shown as a flashback but Hitchcock opted instead to give Bergman a monologue so she could shine. After Under Capricorn, Hitchcock realized costume dramas were not for him and he never revisited this genre.




Under Capricorn (1949) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The BFI and Kino did a 4k restoration and color correction of the movie. This special edition includes the following extras: a commentary track by film historian Kat Ellinger, 12 minute audio clip of Francois Truffaut's interview with Alfred Hitchcock, a 26 minute doc called A Cinema of Signs: Claude Chabrol on Alfred Hitchcock and various trailers. In one part of the Chabrol doc he highlights several scenes in Under Capricorn analyzing composition and symbolism. The Blu-Ray disc also comes with an interchangeable jacket as seen above.


Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray to review.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


"What does she mean to you? Two weeks of company in another town?"


It's no secret that the film industry loves remakes and sequels. Take an established story and characters with a following, slap on a number and a new story line or give it a fresh take with a new crew and wait for the financial rewards to come rolling in. It's riskier to take a chance on a new story than to revisit a tried and true formula. And as long as there are movies, there will always be filmmakers revisiting previous successes.

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) is The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) non-sequel you didn't know you wanted. Both are backstage MGM melodramas about the film industry, both star Kirk Douglas, both are directed by Vincente Minnelli and both share the same crew including producer John Houseman, composer David Raskin and screenwriter Charles Schnee. Just take the essence of the original, give it a new story, film it at Cinecitta in Rome and set it ablaze with Metrocolor and you have Two Weeks.

Cinecitta circa 1962

Kirk Douglas in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


Based on the novel by Irwin Shaw, Two Weeks in Another Town follows the story of Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas), a former actor whose spent the past few years in an asylum recovering from his mental breakdown. His old director, Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), summons him to Rome where he's working on a new film at Cinecitta. At first it's just a small gig, $5,000 in Jack's pocket and a chance to work on a movie set again. But Kruger, eager to capture the filmmaking magic they once had, wants Jack to stick around and offers him the job of dubbing supervisor. When Kruger has a heart attack, most likely brought on by his overbearing wife Clara (Claire Trevor), his tormented star Davie Drew (George Hamilton) and his temperamental female star Barzelli (Rosanna Schiaffino), Jack takes over as director. The project and his romance with budding young actress Veronica (Dahlia Lavi) breathes new life into Jack but his ex-wife, actress Carlotta (Cyd Charisse), threatens to destroy him.


Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


Jack Andrus is the perfect role for Kirk Douglas. His character is intense, emotional and temperamental but also serves as the hero the audience wants to champion. George Hamilton's method actor, pseudo-James Dean type is supposed to be characteristic of Jack before his breakdown but Hamilton wasn't a good fit for the part, something that he admitted to himself. It's also unclear why his character is so tormented in the first place. His character and many others are caricatures of film industry types or are just plain misogynistic: the innocent beauty, the angry old hag, the jaded assistant, the temperamental actress, the destructive femme fatale, the tyrant director, the heartless film reporter, and so on and so forth. The film does tap into an interesting philosophical query: can you be true to your authentic self when your life is devoted to pretending to be other people? There are a few moments where I thought the film was really going to explore this but then it went right back to the melodrama.

And melodrama it was. Over-the-top is the best way to describe Two Weeks in Another Town. From the characters, the music, the plot, and the absolutely bonkers car crash but not quite a crash sequence with Douglas and Charisse. I couldn't help comparing Two Weeks with another Kirk Douglas film The Arrangement (1969). In that film he's an ad executive who is frustrated with his job and his passionless marriage, he has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. He finds some joy in a romance with a younger woman (Faye Dunaway). In the Two Weeks, Douglas' Jack, before he goes to Rome, is a film star, frustrated with his job, in a toxic marriage, has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. Both movies are not great but I found them to be enjoyable and I had fun comparing the two.

Two Weeks in Another Town was a bomb at the box office and garnered terrible reviews. Director Minnelli was quoted as saying "It's painful to talk about the ruin of that film even now." The magic of The Bad and the Beautiful, which won 5 Academy Awards and was nominated for a 6th, couldn't be captured ten years later in a new setting. Scenes from the original are shown in Two Weeks. In the story Kruger is its director and Jack its star and they are watching the film to understand what filmmaking magic the two had lost and how can they recapture it. Two Weeks was the final project for screenwriter Charles Schnee who died the year of its release. The film also reunited Claire Trevor and Edward G. Robinson who were both in another beloved classic movie, Key Largo (1948).


Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


Should you bother with Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)? My answer is a resounding yes. If you don't come to it with high expectations and you embrace the melodrama you can be treated a simple and beautifully styled movie. I enjoyed the on location shooting in full color, performances by some of my most favorite actors, and exquisite costumes and decor. I wanted to jump into the movie, steal some goodies and go back to 2018 with my haul. In the film Kirk Douglas drives a beautiful Maserati which I appreciated for its retro body style but car enthusiasts will love because it's a rare model, a 3500 GT Vignale Spyder, that has been made the rounds with vintage car collectors and is still in existence today.




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Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me the Blu-Ray of Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) to review!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel

Anne Bancroft: A Life
by Douglass K. Daniel
University Press of Kentucky
408 pages
September 2017
Hardcover ISBN: 9780813169682

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"Personally and professionally, she was determined to live by her own terms." - Douglass K. Daniel

If ever there was a woman who was born to be an actress it was Anne Bancroft. Born in 1931 and raised in the Bronx, Bancroft was second generation American from sturdy Naples stock and her heritage was obvious from her given name: Anna Maria Louisa Italiano. The acting bug bit at a very young age and Anna would find any excuse to entertain. She could sing, dance and act and along with her God given talent she was also incredibly driven.

She didn't waste a minute getting started on her new found profession. Fresh out of high school, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and studied under Lee Strasburg. She got her first professional acting role, complete with a new name, Anne Marno, in the live television show Torrents of Spring. Eventually she dropped Marno for Bancroft and headed for Hollywood. Her ultimate goal was to be a movie star but her career would take her down a long and winding journey from TV, to Broadway and to Hollywood and back again. Even with the ups and many downs of her acting career, Bancroft never lost the passion and fire that drove her to pursue her art.

In the first comprehensive biography on the life and career of Anne Bancroft, author Douglass K. Daniel explores just what it took for this talented actress to make her mark. Bancroft started in Hollywood just as the studio system was winding down. She signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox but that was short lived. Daniel writes,

"The major studios were moving toward shedding their contract talent in the face of financial uncertainty. The independence that came with picking and choosing roles could not be separated from the loss of security represented by regular employment."  

- Douglass K. Daniel

Relegated to small roles in films like  Don't Bother to Knock (1952), her film debut, or B-movies like New York Confidential (1955). Bancroft didn't fit a mold and while Hollywood struggled place her in roles that suited her talents. It was Bancroft's stage work that breathed new life into her film career. She had successful runs on Broadway with Two for the Seesaw, co-starring Henry Fonda, and The Miracle Worker, with Patty Duke. She lost the film role for the former but managed to get it for the latter and eventually went on to win the Academy Award for her role as Anne Sullivan. More parts came and went.  In Daniel's biography, we learn about her work in  The Slender Thread (1965), 7 Women (1966) and others leading up to her break out role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967). That film immortalized her but didn't necessarily boost her career. Other notable films discussed include The Hindenburg (1975), Fatso (1980), which she wrote, co-starred and directed, The Elephant Man (1980), Garbo Talks (1984), Agnes of God (1985), 84 Charing Cross Road (1987) and more.


"Mel and I are adamant. Our work is public, our other life is not." - Anne Bancroft


Bancroft's personal life was harder to pin down. She treasured her privacy and was adamant about keeping a work-life balance. In the biography reader learn a little about her first marriage to Martin May, a strange union that would end almost as soon as it began. Bancroft went on to find happiness in her second marriage to actor/director/producer Mel Brooks. They met while Bancroft was performing on the TV show Kraft Music Hall and immediately hit it off. Brooks and Bancroft collaborated on projects including Silent Movie (1976) and To Be or Not to Be (1983). Brooks achieved a level of success that Bancroft did not. She scaled back to one project a year after the birth of their only child Max only to realize later that career and motherhood could go hand in hand. Brooks and Bancroft seemed like an odd pair but their relationship worked on many levels. They were intensely private about their personal lives, had strong work ethics, respected each other as husband and wife and as performers. They were married until her death in 2005 and Bancroft worked up until the very end. Even as the roles got smaller and projects felt more stifling, her passion to be an entertainer never diminished.


Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks

Throughout her career, Bancroft struggled to find good parts in good movies. She faced many obstacles as a woman and eventually as a woman of a certain age. Today we talk about gender inequality in the film industry and Anne Bancroft can be seen as an early spokesperson for women in film. In 1984 she said,

"People don't write wonderful parts for women because women have not been given a chance to live wonderful lives that people want to write about, and because most of the writers are men." 

Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel is an extensive look at an actress who lived life on her terms and offers readers insight into a woman who battled to have the career she wanted.

Thank you to University Press of Kentucky for sending me a copy of the book for review.



This is my first review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Love, Cecil

Love, Cecil poster


"I started out with very little talent but I was so tormented with ambition." 
Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)

Cecil Beaton was many things. He was a photographer, a writer, a painter, a set decorator, a costume designer and a socialite. But if we were to put him in one master category it would have to be that of artist. Beaton was an aesthete to the highest degree. Born with an appreciation for all things beautiful, Beaton was drawn to art in its many forms. His first love was the theater and he loved looking at photographic portraits of stage actresses. This led to his personal ambition to photograph them himself. He set out to learn photography but a traditional education was not for him. Beaton did poorly in school and rarely attended lectures while in college. Everything he learned about art was self-taught. He mastered techniques in photography through sheer determination. Before the word "selfies" ever became part of our daily lexicon, Beaton made taking self-portraits an almost daily practice. His two sisters were his models and with them he learned how to master the art of styling, staging, and posing.

Beaton went on to have a long and industrious career in fashion and art. He was a tireless worker, always on the go and game for anything. His work took him to Hollywood, a place that brought him an opportunity to work with some of the best subjects in the world. Beaton stylized the sets and costumes for films like Gigi (1958) and My Fair Lady (1964). He shot iconic portraits of legendary stars like Katharine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Orson Welles, Sylvia Sidney, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Leslie Caron, Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Barbra Streisand, Merle Oberon, Lillian Gish and Grace Kelly. His favorite model was Greta Garbo. Not only was she the ideal subject for his photography, he was immensely drawn to her as a person. The two had tumultuous friendship which led to a brief affair. Beaton was a complicated fellow, never settling down and besides his relationship with Garbo, he preferred the company of men. He wasn't afraid to be a dandy in a time when homosexuality was illegal in his home country of England.

Cecil Beaton's portrait of Gary Cooper


Cecil Beaton's portrait of Greta Garbo

New from Zeitgeist Films and directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Love, Cecil chronicles the life and career of the man whose style made an indelible mark on the 20th century. We learn about his often tumultuous relationships with his family growing up and with his friends, lovers and collaborators. There is even footage of George Cukor discussing how the two didn't get along while making My Fair Lady. The film includes interviews with a variety of experts including magazine editors, photographers, historians, designers, museum curators, artists and people who knew Beaton well including his biographer, a former model, his former butler and the director of the first documentary on Beaton's life entitled Beaton by Bailey. We also hear from Beaton himself through archival footage and from his journal entries, read by actor Rupert Everett.

This is a multi-faceted look at an artist who had the capacity to delight and to shock. He was opinionated, disapproving and sometimes rude. As a contributor to Vogue, he once made the mistake of incorporating an anti-Semitic slur into one of his article sketches. The issue had to be scrapped. To make up for his grievous error, Beaton contributed to the WWII effort as a war photographer. He traveled all over the world, working tirelessly and was even in a serious airplane crash. Beaton's work was published in many outlets including one on the cover of LIFE magazine.



Classic film enthusiasts will be interested to learn about Beaton's contributions to the visual spectacle of two very important mid-century films: My Fair Lady and Gigi. Beaton worked on others but these are the two focused on in this documentary. I was particularly taken with the beautiful portraits Beaton shot of many of my favorite actors and actresses.



Love, Cecil is a dynamic exploration of an artistic genius whose passion for beauty influenced everything he did. Highly recommended.



Love, Cecil recently opened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. It will be playing in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta and many other cities across the country through July and August and into the fall. Visit Zeitgeist Films' official website for dates and locations.

Recommended viewing: Pair Love, Cecil with another Zeitgest Film documentary Bill Cunningham: New York (2010). I found these two figures, both fashion photographers, both complicated individuals, to be very similar in many ways.

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