Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hollywood Enlists!: Propaganda Films of WWII

Hollywood Enlists! Propaganda Films of World War II
by Ralph Donald
Rowman and Littlefield
Hardcover ISBN: 9781442277267
March 2017
274 pages

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

Over the years the term "propaganda" has developed a negative connotation. It suggests the brainwashing of its subjects by an authority who lacks good intentions. However, the word propaganda really just means persuasion. Professor of communications Ralph Donald, points out in his new book Hollywood Enlists! Propaganda Films of World War II that "the United States is by far the world's biggest exporter of media" and in those pivotal years of WWII used its media, especially in the form of movies, to drum up support for the war effort. The author breaks down propaganda into two definitions:

1) "forming new and adjusted attitudes in the minds of audiences."
2) "urging them to action, to do something about these newly acquired attitudes."

It was during WWII that Hollywood linked arms with the government to deliver many types of propaganda to its devoted audiences. Feature films about Americans fighting overseas and holding down the fort on the home front, flooded the theaters. There were also documentaries, newsreels, promotional reels encouraging the sales of war bonds and much more. In his book, author Donald focuses on American feature films released during WWII and specifically about the war. We all know that countless movies about WWII came after and are still coming out today (two good examples are the recent releases Dunkirk and Darkest Hour). However, the movies of that pivotal time delivered an important message of American loyalty and support of the war.

"Films made during WWII accomplished their objectives so well that they helped to forge an entire generation into one of the most ideologically unified, singularly-minded populations in the history of the world." - Ralph Donald

The author packs so much in what turns out to be less than 200 reading pages. He breaks down the different themes of propaganda, based on theories developed in the academic world, and shows how each of these themes, and even their sub-themes, play out in different films of the era. It helps to have some familiarity with these films as spoilers are not held back especially if the ending of a movie helps demonstrated the execution of a particular theme. Many movies are referenced and the backmatter of the book includes an annotated filmography. Films discussed at length include: J'Accuse (1938), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Sergeant York (1941), Captains of the Clouds (1942), Casablanca (1942), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Saboteur (1942), Bombadier (1943), Destination Tokyo (1943),  Five Graves to Cairo (1943),  Lifeboat (1944), Back to Bataan (1945), Blood on the Sun (1945), They Were Expendable (1945), and more.

The various themes explained throughout the book really demonstrated just how these movies were intentional in their messages. Sometimes the themes are obvious and some are incredibly subtle. The author breaks down propaganda into five points: Guilt, Sat-nism (good vs. evil), Illusion of Victory, Apocalyptic/Biblical and Territorial. Each of the five points gets it's own chapter with plenty of breakdowns, examples and explanations. In Sat-nism, propaganda films demonstrated polar opposites of good and evil, America vs. the Japanese or the Nazis in many cases, by constantly comparing characters on both sides. This sounds relatively simple and it is on the surface. However, the author breaks down all of the aspects of this good vs. evil portrayal down to many many factions. Not all possible themes were available to use because there was still the Hays Code to contend with. For example, one theme that was often turned down by the Hays Office, was the portrayal of enemy soldiers raping women. It's seen in films like Edge of Darkness (1943) starring Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan. Constant comparisons of the treatment of women, the fairness of judicial systems, suppression of ideas and honor vs. dishonor really drive home the message that we are fighting for the right reasons. I was particularly fascinated by the fact that Italy was not considered a true threat and portrayed that way in many films. It's something I'll look for next time I encounter an Italian character in a WWII film.

"Hollywood was both an influence in, and a dutiful mirror of, American public opinion." - Ralph Donald

This book is by no means light reading. It took me a couple of months to get through as it is packed with information and is delivered in a straightforward academic tone. It is not so much a reference book, unless you are working on a paper on propaganda in film, as it is a book meant to be read cover-to-cover. I wouldn't recommend this to the casual classic film reader. It's really meant for classroom use or for someone, like me, who is particularly interested in WWII and Hollywood.

Hollywood Enlists! by Ralph Donald packs a punch with its thorough and well-researched breakdowns of the propaganda themes found in the feature films of WWII.

Thank you to publisher Rowman and Littlfield for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon (1972)

This review is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

It's New Year's Eve, and the S.S. Poseidon is on its scheduled final journey. The cruise liner is a few days behind schedule and the captain (Leslie Nielsen) is feeling pressure to speed things up from new owner Linarcos (Fred Sadoff). He wants to make up ground but the captain is worried that the old vessel won't be able to handle going full speed ahead and it will put their passengers in danger. On board are a motley crew of vacationers heading to different ports of call. Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman) tends to the religious needs of the passengers. His approach to faith is radically different from the more traditional view of the ship's chaplain (Arthur O'Connell). Then there is Robin (Eric Shea), a young curious boy who wants to learn everything there is to know about the S.S. Poseidon. He's traveling with his sister Susan (Pamela Sue Martin) on the way to see their parents. Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) his devoted to his wife Linda (Stella Stevens), whom he rescued from a life of prostitution. Then there are the Rosens, Belle (Shelley Winters) and Manny (Jack Albertson), a loving couple on their way to see their new grandchild in Israel. They befriend bachelor Martin (Red Buttons), whose focus on health and fitness keeps him busy to avoid feelings of loneliness. Then there is the staff like Acres (Roddy McDowall) a waiter in the main dining room and Nonnie (Carol Lynley), a singer whose band hitches a ride on the Poseidon and pay their way with performances.

Little do the passengers and crew know that a disaster is impending. A nearby earthquake creates a tidal wave and because the captain had to speed up the vessel, they are headed straight for it.  While everyone celebrates the ringing in of a New Year, the wave hits the S.S. Poseidon turning it over. Led by Reverend Scott, Robin, Susan, the Rogos, the Rosens, Martin, Acres and Nonnie make their way to the bottom of the ship which is now the top. They face doubts from other passengers and internal doubts as they struggle their way to freedom. With so many deaths and more to come, who will survive? How will they work together to save their own lives? Will this team make it out of the vessel to be rescued?

The principal players of The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Based on the novel by Paul Gallico and directed by Ronald Neame, The Poseidon Adventure (1972) was a box office hit. It was a gamble for 20th Century Fox which had been backtracking from investing in big budget movies. This movie paid off. They invested $4.7 million and made $40 million+ in rentals. Some significant changes to the novel's plot and the portrayal of the main characters helped develop the film adaptation into something cinema goers would enjoy. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won 2. The film spawned a sequel and a remake.

Disaster movies always give me anxiety. I emotionally invest myself in the characters and I want to see them survive. Watching The Poseidon Adventure, I was the most anxious I have ever been since watching Titanic (1997) when it came out in theaters. I was at the edge of my seat. This film had some really great moments of tension. Each stage to climb the different levels in order to get off the ship was like an insane obstacle course that challenged each group member physically and emotionally. I expected this movie to be cheesy but was pleased how for the most part it wasn't. The drama felt real not forced.

Faith plays an important role in the movie. It starts with Gene Hackman's character Reverend Scott. He's a man of the cloth going through a crisis of faith but has to lead others in their own beliefs. When the disaster strikes, he comes up with a plan to escape but it takes the faith of a small group of people who believe in him to follow Rev. Scott on this treacherous journey. Some of the characters struggle with faith whether its with themselves or with their leader. There is also little Robin who has learned some very useful information about the ship but because of his young age characters like Rogo doubt him. It takes the faith Rev. Scott has in him to use that information for them to move forward.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) is a captivating disaster movie that will keep you enthralled to the very last minute. I highly recommend it.

I rented The Poseidon Adventure (1972) on DVD Netflix. Click on this link to add it to your queue. Thank you to DVD Netflix for sponsoring this post.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Guy Kibbee Triple Feature

Guy Kibbee
Guy Kibbee. Photo source: Getty Images

Guy Kibbee is a beloved silver screen figure among many contemporary classic film fans, myself included. Just hearing his name brings me joy. I know whenever Guy Kibbee appears in the credits of a movie that I'm in for a real treat. Kibbee was a Warner Bros. contract player in the 1930s and 1940s. He played a variety of roles where he showcased his talents as a character actor. He's known for memorable characters in some of my favorite films including Union Depot (1931), The Crowd Roars (1931), 42nd Street (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). He held his own in smaller roles but had the chops and on screen charisma for leading roles too.

A new DVD release from the Warner Archive Collection showcases three Guy Kibbee movies in which the beloved character actor shines in leading roles. Each film is 60-70 minutes long making it easy to binge watch all three in a row.

The Big Noise (1936)

Guy Kibbee The Big Noise (1936)

The Big Noise (1936) stars Guy Kibbee as textile manufacturing president Julius Trent. Quality work and a good reputation over profits: that's what Julius believes in. Unfortunately he's in the minority and has been voted out as president. With too much time on his hands and a wife fussing over his health, he secretly buys 50% of a local laundry shop under the guise Tom Douglas. The joint comes with a new partner, the handsome and bright Ken (Warren Hull) who is enthusiastic for business and has a degree in chemistry. Not knowing Tom's true identity, he happens to fall in love with Julius' daughter Betty (Alma Lloyd).  The business also comes with air-headed assistant Daisy (Marie Wilson) and a talkative parrot. Little do Tom/Julius and Ken know but the previous owner owes money to the mob syndicate that terrorizes the laundry shops in the neighborhood. Tom/Julius must find a way to extricate them from the mob and save the business.

Directed by Frank McDonald and based on a story by Edward Hartman, is a light comedy with a darker side. I was surprised the turn the story took when the protagonist comes up with a plan to save the business. Kibbee is endearing as the business tycoon who refuses to take it easy. Henry O'Neill has a terribly small part as Tom/Julius' friend and former colleague. Warren Hull was absolutely charming as Ken but it was a bit unbelievable that a handsome, intelligent and business savvy man like him would want to own a small laundry shop.

Going Highbrow (1935)

Guy Kibbee in Going Highbrow (1935)

Going Highbrow (1935) stars Guy Kibbee and Zasu Pitts as Matt and Cora Upshaws. These Kansas millionaires don't know what to do with their new-found wealth. They come to New York City after a trip to Europe, and as soon as Cora Upshaw steps off the ship she sets out to become the renowned socialite she believes herself to be. Cora is awkward yet eager and Matt just wants a simple life dining on ham and eggs instead of caviar and champagne. Members of New York society Augie (Edward Everett Horton) and Harley (Ross Alexander) set to drain the Upshaws of some of their money by hosting a soiree in their honor. Matt Upshaw hires his favorite waitress Sandy (June Martel) to play his socialite daughter and hilarity inevitably ensues.

Directed by Robert Florey, Going Highbrow based on the story Social Pirates by Ralph Spence. The film showcases the comedic talents of Kibbee, Pitts and Horton, three of the most. This is one of three films Pitts and Kibbee made together. They were well suited to their roles and a joy to watch on screen. Ross Alexander overdoes it in his role and it loses it's intended comedic effect. I was delighted by June Martel who is new to me. Pitts and Martels wear beautiful gowns designed by Orry-Kelly. Pitts steals the show a bit from Kibbee but he manages to hold his own as the lovable Matt Upshaw.

Mary Jane's Pa (1935)

Guy Kibbee in Mary Jane's Pa (1935)

They saved the best for last...

Mary Jane's Pa (1935) stars Aline MacMahon as Ellen Preston. Her husband Sam (Guy Kibbee), a newspaper publisher, has abandoned the family and the business when the urge to travel becomes too strong for him to deny. His wanderlust takes him away for 10 years and Ellen must make a new life for herself with their two daughters Mary Jane (Betty Jean Hainey) and Lucille (Nan Grey). Ellen has taken over the newspaper business and moved the family away. Sam travels with a carnival as Jonah Barker, hoping to find his family along the way. At one stop, hevmeets Mary Jane and soon discovers she's his daughter. Sam/Jonah tries to get back in with Ellen who is having none of it. He takes a job as the Preston family housekeeper and helps bring to light a secret scandal involving a major election. Can Sam earn back the love of his family?

Directed by William Keighley, Mary Jane's Pa was based on the play of the same name by Edith Ellis Furness. This film stood out of the three not only because it was the only drama in a set with two comedies but because of the quality of the story telling and the connection I felt with the characters. Fathers abandoned families, this is a harsh truth of the era and also happens today. I was interested to see how it played out in this story. Aline MacMahon and Kibbee appeared in 10 films together and they have great chemistry. John Arledge has a small but charming role as Linc, Ellen's gossip columnist. Tom Brown, who I recognized from Anne of Green Gables (1934), plays Lucille's boyfriend King. Out of the three movies, Kibbee's role in Mary Jane's Pa had the most depth and was by far the most interesting.

Guy Kibbee Triple Feature with The Big Noise (1936), Going Highbrow (1935) and Mary Jane's Pa (1935) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive. This set is a must-have for anyone who loves Guy Kibbee. And those people are easy to find. You can buy the DVD at the WB Shop. Using my buy links helps support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of the Guy Kibbee Triple Feature to review!

If you've read this far you are in for a special treat! I'm giving away an extra copy of the Guy Kibbee Triple Feature. This contest is exclusive to this post, available for participants ages 18+, US/CAN only.

Follow these instructions carefully: to enter, leave a comment below telling me about your favorite Guy Kibbee movie and use whisper code: "Thanks Warner Archive!" somewhere in your reply. For an extra entry, tweet my article (just click on the link for a pre-populated tweet), grab the tweet's direct URL and include it in your comment.

Contest ends Thursday December 21st at midnight. Winner will be announced on Friday. good luck!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Cop-Out (1967)

Former barrister John Sawyer (James Mason) drowns his sorrows in liquor. He lives with his daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin) in a decrepit old mansion. The two have a strained relationship brought on by two major factors: the abandonment of the family by the matriarch and their age gap. Angela spends her time avoiding her dad. She works for touchy-feely barrister Chelham (Michael Danvers-Walker) and spends her free time with her friends. Most of her pals are rich socialites, bored with life and seeking the thrill that only misbehaving can bring them. One particular member of the group stands out, Jo Christoforides (Paul Bertoya), the Greek immigrant, son of a laundry woman. Angela and Jo are secretly in love. But Jo's status as a poor foreigner makes him an easy scapegoat when a dead body turns up at the Sawyer mansion. Eccentric ship steward Barney Teale (Bobby Darin) has been found murdered in the room he'd been secretly staying in. Teale's association with Angela's group of friends seems to be his downfall. Who killed Teale? Can Sawyer come out of his alcoholic haze to save Jo from being wrongfully accused of murder and restore his relationship with his daughter?

"The young should be left alone. You don't like us very much do you? It's very well because we represent the future you're afraid of. Sometimes we hate you too because you're the past we never had." - John Sawyer (James Mason)

Cop-Out (1967) is a family drama that explores the generational divide and the youth culture of the 1960s through the lens of a murder mystery. It reminded me a little of Bonjour Tristesse (1958) in that it demonstrates how bored rich people can ruin lives; their own and that of others. Unfortunately, Cop-Out failed to reach it's potential. And it did have potential. I was quite interested in the clashing cultures of Mason's older generation and Chaplin's youthful generation that was coming of age in the late 1960s. That entire decade was a turbulent one and also drastically altered pretty much ever aspect of youth culture. There was also potential with the theme of sex. One of the characters is secretly gay, a stripper ends up being a key witness, and it's suggested that Angela's character sleeps around, although she is clearly committed to Jo. It's all there but not as fleshed out as it could be. Then there is the literary theme that I suspect is stronger in the source material than it is in the movie. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is used in solving the case and there is even a short reading by James Mason.

The story is based on the novel The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon. I quite enjoyed watching Panique (1946) at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. That movie is also based on a Simenon novel and I got to hear his youngest son Pierre Simenon discuss his father's life and career which included many many film adaptations. Before Cop-Out, the novel was filmed in France as Les inconnus dans la maison (1942) in France. Selmur Productions, an arm of ABC Films, shot The Stranger in the House, minus the pluralization in the novel's original name, on location in Southampton and Winchester, England. It was released in the UK in 1967 and then released as Cop-Out in the US.

Cop-Out was directed by Pierre Rouve who also adapted the screenplay. Rouve had a very short career in movies. Cop-Out was the only movie he directed. He wrote a total of four movies, was an assistant director on one, and produced six others including the ground-breaking Blow-Up (1966). He went on to enjoy a career as a broadcaster and art critic.

Unfortunately, Cop-Out was a flop in the UK and US. Originally George C. Scott was supposed to play the deranged ship steward Barney Teale but was eventually replaced by Bobby Darin. Personally I think Darin was an under-rated actor who could deliver some fine performances in both drama and comedy. He's a favorite of mine but his performance in this film thoroughly confused me. He does his best James Cagney impression in both voice and mannerisms. I couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to be a George C. Scott type or if he was channeling Cody Jarrett from White Heat (1949).

Actor Ian Ogilvy, who plays Sawyer's troubled nephew Desmond Flower, wrote briefly about working on the movie in his memoir Once a Saint. He recalls one outing with actor James Mason:
"It was a cold day and windy too and there was nobody about. We got to the end of the pier and looked out over the heaving grey sea. 'Well, that's not very interesting, is it?' said Mason. 'Don't know why we bothered.' The same could have been said about the film we were making." 

Cop-Out wasn't a complete loss for me. I was interested in the core of the story enough that I am looking to obtain a copy of Georges Simenon's novel, which is available from the New York Review Books, to see if there is more to the story that this movie might have missed.

Cop-Out is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. Thank you to Kino for sending me a copy for review!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955)

Steve Rollins (Alan Ladd) is a man who's been wronged. After serving a 5 year sentence at San Quentin for a crime he didn't commit, the former cop is now free. Waiting for him at the gate is his old partner Dan (William Demarest) who sticks with him through thick and thin, and his wife Marcia (Joanne Dru), a lounge singer who gave into temptation while her husband was away. But Steve can't be bothered with dealing with his failed marriage. He's on a mission to track down the one man responsible for putting him in the slammer: Vic Damato (Edward G. Robinson). He got a hot tip from Frank Ragoni about who set him up and now Ragoni is missing. All fingers point to Damato who leads a mob syndicate that terrorizes the Italian fishing community of San Francisco. He's drunk with power and will kill anyone who gets in his way, even one of his own. He rules his team with an iron fist. First there's his number one man, Joe (Paul Stewart), who will do anything Damato tells him to but pulls away when he starts a romance with former screen star Kay (Fay Wray). Then there's Hammy (Stanley Adams), a blood thirsty mobster who is a little too eager to please, Damato's naive nephew Mario (Perry Lopez) and his man on the inside, dirty cop Detective Connors (Peter Hansen). Steve must make his way through web of shady characters to uncover the truth and to bring down Damato once and for all.

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) is a fascinating noir, filmed in Cinemascope and Warner Color by with plenty of on-location shooting in the city by the bay. San Francisco serves as the beautiful backdrop for a dark tale of disturbed characters. Viewers will see shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf and the San Francisco, Ghirardelli Square, the Embarcadero and the iconic hills of San Francisco. Anyone familiar with the city will find plenty of recognizable scenery.

Based on the novel The Darkest Hour by William P. McGivern, Hell on Frisco Bay was adapted by screenwriters Sydney Boehm and Martin Rackin for Warner Bros. McGivern also wrote The Big Heat which is one of my favorite Noirs and one of the best films Fritz Lang made during his time in Hollywood. It was directed by Frank Tuttle who worked with Alan Ladd on This Gun for Hire (1942). Ladd, who also served as an uncredited producer through his company Jaguar Productions, hired Tuttle and other colleagues from his Paramount days including William Demarest, Paul Stewart and Anthony Caruso.

This Noir boasts a cast of characters portrayed by some of the best in the business. Edward G. Robinson playing a heartless mobster is no stretch as he had been playing such characters for many years. Alan Ladd looks worse for wear but his performance as Steve begs for the audience's sympathy but also holds them at a distance. I was quite taken with Paul Stewart's nuanced performance as Damato's reluctant sidekick Joe. He's not an actor I'm all that familiar with but this film definitely brought him to my attention. Fay Wray has an important but small role as a former actress who tries to protect her gangster boyfriend. I wish Joanne Dru and William Demarest had more to do in the film. They really just serve as the protagonist's counter parts. Starlet Jayne Mansfield has a bit role as the girl Perry Lopez dances with at Damato's night club. A young Rod Taylor, billed as Rodney Taylor, has a small role as one of Damato's thugs. His fight seen with Alan Ladd isn't quite believable but it's still fun to see Taylor in what was his fourth movie. In fact Ladd and Robinson have a big action-packed scene in San Francisco Bay that is also not quite believable. But with the help of stunt men and some studio footage, it works.

Hell on Frisco Bay is a gorgeous movie. Where it lacks in story telling it makes up for in stunning visuals and dramatic music by Max Steiner. This movie makes me long for a time when you could dress up, go to a classy lounge, have a drink and hear a good song or two. I always forget how richly visual 1950s movies are until I watch a good one and am reminded of this fact. Because of the gorgeous color cinematography, the film felt less like a Noir and more like a 1950s drama. I don't think this hurts the film at all. It makes it more of a hybrid.

Hell on Frisco Bay is available on Blu-Ray and DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. According to their recent podcast Hard Lessons this is the first time this film has been available either on DVD or Blu-Ray format. The film has been remastered from the original camera negative at 4k. You can buy the DVD and Blu-Ray at the WB Shop. Using my buy links helps support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) to review!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Stefan is a tortured artist. A once celebrated composer, he has abandoned his craft for a transient life of excess. He leaves a trail of broken hearts behind him. A wealthy man has challenged him to a duel, one Stefan doesn't plan to go through with. When he arrives at his home, his butler John presents him with a letter. It's from someone he doesn't quite remember, a dying woman named Lisa. Lisa has been in love with Stefan ever since she first laid eyes on him at the tender age of 16. Over the years she follows his career and longs to be with him. They have a short and passionate affair that leaves her bearing his child. Every time she comes into his life, Stefan doesn't remember Lisa. She's relegated to the status of unknown woman. Lisa's letter tells Stefan the story of her love for him, the one he's neglected to appreciate over the years.

Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) is Lisa's story. We follow her from her teenage years all the way until the delivery of her letter to Stefan. The film stars Joan Fontaine as Lisa Brendle, the impressionable and shy young woman whose fierce devotion to the object of her affection makes her more of a tragic figure than her early demise. Fontaine plays Lisa at different stages at her life. At the age of 30, which Fontaine was at the time of filming, it's difficult to pull off playing a 16 year old. However, Fontaine's natural talent for playing shy yet passionate characters makes an impression. Had they cast another actress to play teenage Lisa, the viewer wouldn't have felt such a strong connection to the character as they do when they follow Fontaine as Lisa throughout the film.Louis Jourdan plays Stefan, the impossibly handsome composer who refuses to be pinned down by life. The only constant in his life is John (Art Smith) his mute butler. It drives me mad to see how Stefan can forget Lisa so quickly. Doesn't he realize just how special she is? The art of this film is how it makes one feel so strongly about a fictional character.

Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Directed by one of the greatest directors of all time, Max Ophuls, Letter from an Unknown Woman is a stunning movie. It's rich in emotional drama without becoming overly sentimental. The audience enters the world of Lisa and Stefan giving us the room to understand and sympathize with Lisa as we follow her journey. Stefan is elusive and feels just out of reach, much as he does in Lisa's life. The film boasts trademarks of Ophuls work including European sensibilities, a complex and interesting female protagonist, a duel, and luxurious sets and costumes that are pleasing to the eye.

The story is based on a novella by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. The plot had to be toned down quite a bit for American movie audiences. Produced by Joan Fontaine and her husband WIlliam Dozier's company Rampart Productions, the film got its start at RKO. However they couldn't get the plot past the Hays Office. Max Ophuls convinced Universal Pictures head William Goetz to let him make the movie when Ophuls cornered Goetz in a Turkish bath. At Universal, screenwriter Howard Koch adapted the story. Because of the increasing number of independent production companies and players, members of the Hays Office knew it would eventually get made so they negotiated with Universal on several plot points to get it approved. Most notably the couple, and their son, had to be punished for having relations out of wedlock. I suspect that having the story based in Austria helped their cause. American audiences could relegate the behavior of the protagonists as something those naughty Europeans do. The otherness of the characters was less threatening than if they were Americans going against their own moral code.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the perspective of the story. Most see it as Lisa's point-of-view. It's infuriating for viewers to see how Stefan neglects Lisa and can't fully remember her when he encounters her again. She loves him with such fervor so why can't he wake up and appreciate this? The only person Stefan seems to remember is his mute butler John. Possibly because he is the only person who does not ask Stefan for anything. Unlike Stefan's many romantic flings or admirers of his music who demand new art from him. Another school of thought places the perspective on Stefan. He reads Lisa's letter and imagines her story through the filter of his own ego. In this way she is a more submissive, loving, and self-sacrificing character than what she might have been in real life.

Letter from an Unknown Woman is the second Max Ophuls movie I've watched but won't be my last. Ever since my viewing of The Earrings of Madame De... (1953) I've been very interested in Ophuls as a director. Letter was made during the ten years in which Ophuls lived and worked in the United States before moving back to France. In the early 1930s, Ophuls predicted the rise of German Nazis and as a Jew wisely fled Germany for France. He held out in France for as long as possible. However, a serious threat by the Nazis forced him to leave France and after a short stint in Switzerland, he made his way to Hollywood. The film industry already had plenty of European emigres. Ophuls found it difficult to break into the business. He worked as an independent director with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s production company, Universal Studios, Paramount Studios and MGM making one film with each. After the war, Ophuls moved back to France and continued his film career there.

Olive Films has released a limited edition Blu-Ray of Letter from an Unknown Woman as part of their Oliver Signature line. Only 3,5000 copies have been made and once they're gone, they're gone. Olive Films already had a Blu-Ray edition of this film but the Signature edition is a collector's item fans of the film will want to have. The film has undergone a 4k restoration and looks absolute brilliant. The Blu-Ray is tucked into a beautifully designed and slender slipcase. The bonus features include commentary by Litz Bacher, a Max Ophuls expert who speaks specifically on the production of the film. Also included are interviews and essays. I particularly enjoyed the video interview with Max Ophuls' son Marcel Ophuls who speaks at length about their time in the United States.

The Olive Signature Edition of Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) is a must have for classic film collectors and Max Ophuls enthusiasts alike. Thank you to Olive Films for sending me a copy for review!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

DVD Netflix Holiday Twitter Giveaway

This giveaway is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

As a special treat for my readers, I have a holiday giveaway just for you! I've partnered up with DVD Netflix to giveaway three $100 DVD Netflix gift cards. One gift card equals a year's subscription at the 1 disc at a time tier. However the credit can be applied to any tier or bundle (streaming and DVD rental) you have. If you don't have DVD Netflix and want to try it out, this is a great opportunity to start. For existing DVD Netflix members, this is a nice way to cover the costs for a good stretch.

DVD Netflix has a wide variety of classic movies on DVD (and Blu-Ray if you chose to upgrade the service). I have been using it for years to watch new-to-me films, to dive into a particular star's filmography or just to try something different. It's a good service to have especially if the titles you're interested in are not available on streaming services.

As the title of this post suggests this is a Twitter giveaway. You must have a Twitter account to participate as all the prompts relate to that platform.

Rules and Regulations: Must be 18+ or over. DVD Netflix is only available in the US (sorry Canadian and International readers!). One completed entry per person. Contest ends Sunday December 10th at midnight EST. Winners will be chosen the following day and announced below.

You must complete all prompts to enter.


1) Follow my Twitter @Quellelove

2) Follow @DVDNetflix on Twitter

3) Tweet out my newest guest post "5 Holiday Gems from the 1940s" and tag both @Quellelove and @DVDNetflix. Click on the link or the image above to tweet!

4) Leave a comment below with your Twitter username written out (so I can check entries) and tell me about your favorite holiday movie!

Stay tuned as I'll have some fun DVD Netflix content coming on this blog, my social profiles and on the DVD Inside the Envelope blog in 2018!

Congrats to the three winners!


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