Showing posts with label Gloria Grahame. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gloria Grahame. Show all posts

Monday, June 25, 2018

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (2017)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

“The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.” – Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

Gloria Grahame has always been a complicated figure in the classic film world. She was a talented actress with a frank sexuality that made her captivating to watch on screen. She was electric. Grahame had a gift for playing complex women because she knew what it was to be one. Plagued by an internal battle with self-esteem, she was obsessed with her upper lip, stuffing it with cotton until she finally had plastic surgery to fix what she thought was a physical flaw. She married four times and had four children but it was her last marriage to former stepson Anthony Ray, son of her second husband director Nicholas Ray, that caused a major scandal effectively ending her movie career. In her final years, Grahame focused on TV work and worked on the stage. No longer the movie star she once was she still chased the dream of playing interesting women to an eager audience.

In 1987 Peter Turner, Grahame’s lover and close friend published a memoir called Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. It chronicled their time together and Grahame’s final days as she succumbed to the breast cancer and peritonitis that would kill her in October of 1981. Three decades after the memoir hit bookstores, a new biopic brings their story to the silver screen.

Directed by Paul McGuigan, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) stars Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame. Told in a series of flashbacks, the story begins when Grahame collapses just as she's about to go on stage for her performance in The Glass Menagerie. Her now former lover Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) takes her in where his family, especially his doting mother (Julie Walters) takes care of the failing Grahame. The story shifts between 1979 and 1981 and as we follow the trajectory of Grahame and Turner’s romance. The two meet as struggling actors living in a rundown apartment building in Liverpool. Drawn to each other like moths to flames, they start a passionate love affair. They share a mutual love for theater and for each other. Grahame takes Turner with her to New York and Los Angeles, he meets her mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and sister Joy (Frances Barber) in what turns out to be a very unfortunate gathering. Grahame is constantly struggling with getting older and any mention her age sets her on edge. The age gap between her and Turner doesn't help things either. When faced with mortality, Grahame decides to move forward on her own terms. The two part ways only to be reunited when Grahame needs Turner the most.

There are no real spoilers in this film unless you know nothing about Gloria Grahame’s life. While the story touches upon her former career, we see clips from In a Lonely Place (1950) and her accepting her Oscar for The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), the movie is only concerned with those final years in Liverpool with Peter Turner. The film is intimate and sensual. Bening and Bell have a chemistry that made the onscreen love affair believable. While they were both age appropriate for their roles, I didn’t quite see Grahame and Turner in Bening and Bell. Did they completely pull off playing these parts? Only Peter Turner himself will ever know for sure. They are however very convincing as an aging actress in failing health who falls in love with a much younger actor.

Jamie Bell and Annette Bening in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (2017)

I love how this film approached a critical point in their relationship. We see both perspectives rather than just Turner’s. Also Grahame is as complicated in this movie as she was in real life. She is a perplexing character. Is she sabotaging herself with her self-destructive behavior? Or is she just a strong-willed woman choosing to live the rest of the days on her own terms. Or maybe a bit of both? This film is filled with moments of joy and sadness but ultimately it will break your heart.

Produced by Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Albert R. Broccoli, for Eon Productions which has long been known for producing the James Bond films. This is one of their rare ventures outside the franchise. The movie reunites Jamie Bell and Julie Walters 17 years after they made Billy Elliot (2000).

The DVD comes with a bunch of special features including commentary track by director Paul McGuigan, producer Barbara Broccoli and Peter Turner himself. There is also a short vignette of Annette Bening talking about Gloria Grahame and an Elvis Costello music video with accompanying behind the scenes shorts. There is also a 31 minute film panel interview featuring Annette Bening, McGuigan, Turner and Jamie Bell. I can't tell what event it's from but I know it was hosted by Variety and FilmStruck. I couldn't watch more than 10 minutes of this because the interviewer did such a poor job asking her questions. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was really nervous? Maybe this was a last minute gig and she didn't have time to prepare? It was so uncomfortable to watch that I just couldn't get through it.

Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. You can rent Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool on And while you're at it check out their 20th Anniversary site with lots of cool features, videos and ways to earn swag.

I won a copy of this movie by entering DVD Netflix's giveaway on Instagram. They regularly feature new DVD releases on their account so make sure to follow them there!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Not as a Stranger (1955)

"It isn't enough for you to have a brain. You have to have a heart."

Producer Stanley Kramer had staked his claim in Hollywood. After a string of successful films, he was ready to tackle being a director. For his directorial debut, he set his sights on Morton Tompson's bestselling novel Not as a Stranger. A huge hit with the public, the almost 1,000 page novel explored the work and social lives of doctors and nurses with a focus on its main character Lucas Marsh. Kramer was excited to adapt the story that took the nation by storm and he wanted to go big. He needed big stars and a big production. Little did Kramer know what he was getting into.

Medical student Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) will do anything to be a doctor. His best friend Al (Frank Sinatra) and buddy Brundage (Lee Marvin) know it. When Marsh goes home to get some of the money he inherited from his mother, he finds that his drunken father Joe (Lon Chaney Jr.) has spent it all. After hearing some harsh words from Joe, Lucas goes back to school with a major dilemma. If he doesn't pay the rest of his tuition bill in 30 days he's out. Even the lab gig his professor Dr. Aarons (Broderick Crawford) and the check he forked over isn't enough. Lucas has been chatting with the talented Swedish nurse Kristina Hedgivson (Olivia de Havilland). At a family dinner Kristina's sister Bruni (Virginia Christine) and brother-in-law Oley (Harry Morgan), Lucas discovers that Kristina has several thousand dollars stashed away. He speeds up their romance and marries Kristina for the money and the chance to be a doctor, even though his buddy Al warns him that it's not a good idea. Eventually the couple moves to a small town where Lucas will replace the resident doctor (Charles Bickford) but he encounters the gorgeous and seductive widow Harriet Lang (Gloria Grahame). With his marriage in jeopardy, Lucas is also faced with a major operation that will test his skills as a doctor.

Not as a Stranger (1955) is a medical melodrama. To prepare for their parts, Mitchum, Sinatra and Crawford attended an autopsy in a hospital theater much like one in the beginning of the film and Mitchum and de Havilland had extensive training for the different surgery scenes. While Not as a Stranger an interesting look at hospital dynamics and the science of medicine circa the 1950s, this movie has some serious problems. At first I was annoyed by the over-the-top music and the fake Swedish accents and the sluggish pacing. But then I was frustrated by the fact that Mitchum, my favorite actor of all time, who could save pretty much any film, was terribly miscast. Perhaps it was a combination of various factors but Mitchum's Lucas is a very flat character. We don't get to learn enough about him or to connect with him for him to be fully dimensional. Olivia de Havilland serves well as the moral center of the film. Frank Sinatra is absolutely necessary to keep this film going. He's not only the voice of reason but he gives the movie some levity that it so desperately needs. The movie is overly long and at least 30-40 minutes could have been easily cut. What saves it is the wonderful cast and interesting subject matter.

Stanley Kramer, Olivia de Havilland, Frank Sinatra and Robert Mitchum on the set.

Kramer wanted to go big or go home. But perhaps he should have gone home. According to Don Lochte, in later years Kramer called the making of this movie "ten weeks of hell." Robert Mitchum told Lochte that "Stanley stays in his own way as a director." It wouldn't be fair to say this is all Kramer's fault. According to Mitchum biographer Lee Server, "Kramer had unwittingly loaded the picture with a number of Hollywood's most ferocious drinkers". Putting Mitchum, Chaney, Sinatra, Marvin, McCormick and Crawford in one movie might not have been the best idea. But Kramer believed in this cast. Lee Server in his book Baby I Don't Care wrote that there was a lot of hype for the movie adaptation. When news broke that Robert Mitchum would play Lucas Marsh, fans of the book were outraged. They didn't think he could pull off such a sensitive part. Kramer stood by Mitchum and proceeded.

It didn't turn out to be a total disaster. Not as a Stranger cost $2 million and made over $7 million at the box office. According to Frank Sinatra biographer James Kaplan, Sinatra was in the midst of a comeback and needed to keep working so accepting third billing and a smaller part was just something he had to do. Coming off of From Here to Eternity, Frank Sinatra still had something to prove if he wanted to be a big leading star in the movies. Not as a Stranger got him in front of audiences and kept that momentum going he desperately needed.

Olivia de Havilland and Gloria Grahame play polar opposites in a love triangle with Robert Mitchum. Their roles suited their particular strengths well. I wish De Havilland wasn't made to have that Swedish accent but I enjoyed her performance and for a while there she convinced me she was a trained nurse. Grahame was at this point becoming self-conscious about her appearance and was stuffing tissue underneath her front lip which makes her scenes kind of unbearable to watch.

During the making of this film, Mitchum, Sinatra and Crawford had some drinks with Joe DiMaggio and set after to break into Marilyn Monroe's apartment to get the couple back together. They broke into the wrong apartment in what was then called the "Wrong Door Raid."

I can't tell you not to watch Not as a Stranger. This film has such a fantastic cast and such an interesting backstory it would be a shame to ignore it.

Not as a Stranger (1955) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Besides a few issues in the beginning of the film, the Blu-Ray looks great. The extras include captions, various trailers and film commentary by Troy Howarth.

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Switching things up here a little bit. Because I felt Brother Orchid (1940), which is in the Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection boxed set, was a film that I wanted to write about with some detail, I replaced it with In a Lonely Place (1950) which is much more a Bogie film than Brother Orchid would ever be.

In a Lonely Place stars Humphrey Bogart as screenwriter Dixon Steele. Steele has been in the business for a couple of decades, supported by his devoted agent Mel Lippman (Art Smith), but has been down on his luck lately. He's been taken to drink, punches and ladies but not so much to his craft. One night, he invites a hat check girl, to whom he lent a copy of a novel he has to adapt, back to his place to talk about the novel. His neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), witnesses a bit of the interaction between the two that night and flirts with Steele from afar. The next day, the girl winds up murdered and Steele is the #1 suspect with Gray as his only alibi. Steele and Gray develop a close yet volatile relationship which starts to spin out of control as the murder investigation heats up.

While we were watching this film, Carlos noticed that the storyline shifted focus from the murder investigation to the love story between Steele (Bogie) and Gray (Grahame). He wondered why it didn't get back to the main plot point. I explained that these scenes were really important to the plot overall. It was crucial for the viewer to see the love story develop between the the two main characters for various reasons. 1) It allows the audience to develop some sympathy for both characters. 2) Our sympathy is crucial for caring about the two characters when complications arise later in the plot. 3) It's a slow point in the story that gives the audience a break from all the tension that transpires from the murder investigation. Carlos asked how I knew so much about the movie. I actually didn't know anything about In a Lonely Place but I do know a lot about narrative flow and I'm an amateur deconstructionist who appreciates the power of opposites. Movie goers only have so long of an attention span so they need breaks. Why do you think most musicals have a slow number before the big finale? It's a perfect time for a 3-5 minute mental snooze. You can't be wowed all the time. You need some respit. If you don't, you'll be overwhelmed and may lose interest. Also, how will you fully appreciate the tension of a situation when you don't know what it's like when it's not tense? You'll sense the tension much more accutely when you've had some time to relax. Also, if the film skipped over the love story, how would the audience recognize the importance of the love between the two characters when it becomes jeapordized later if you don't see the love blossom in the first place! While Carlos likes to look at the visual details of the movie, I love the more abstract details. It's two very different ways of appreciating film.

*weirdo fact - Gloria Grahame was married to the film's director, Nicholas Ray. She was estranged from him during the shooting of the film and later married his son. Awkward!

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook