Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

Beware, My Lovely
6:30 pm Friday on TCM
Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan

The Lost Weekend
10 pm Friday on TCM
Ray Milland, Jane Wyman

Sunrise
8 pm Saturday on TCM
Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien

The Great Race
1 pm Sunday on TCM
Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon

Butterfield 8
10 pm Sunday on TCM
Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey

 

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Feature: A Movie Through Its Posters — Love in the Afternoon

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Billy Wilder’s international appeal does not surprise me but I had no idea his 1957 Love in the Afternoon was so widely distributed around the world. When I search for movie posters to accompany my posts, I usually find a couple different versions for any given movie and sometimes a foreign one. When I looked for a visual for Love in the Afternoon, however, I found these:

 I frankly had a hard time finding the American poster (it’s the black curtain one; bottom row, left) as every other country seemed to name the movie after its protagonist: Ariane. The wide variety of styles illustrate how other countries thought they could best market this movie about a young woman’s romance with an international playboy.

The countries of origin are (from left to right, top to bottom): Denmark, France, France, France, Germany, Italy, Italy, Italy, Italy, America, Poland, Spain.

The French posters vary greatly in their style whereas the Italian ones all have the same feel to them. Although it is similar to the American poster, the German version using the drawn shade is my favorite. Its colors are beautiful while still capturing the same symbolism as the American take. Which do you prefer?

Despite the curtain, however, there are no such concealing devices used in Love in the Afternoon to hide this secret romance. Cello student Ariane (Audrey Hepburn)  lives in Paris with her father Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier), a private detective specializing in illicit affairs. His latest subject is American businessman Frank Flannagan, played by Gary Cooper, and the jealous husband of a client is prepared to gun the man down for sleeping with his wife. Hearing this, and admiring Frank’s photograph, Ariane takes matters into her own hands. She ultimately finds herself climbing into the playboy’s suite and switching places with the woman so that the gunman has no cause to shoot.

Intrigued by this woman, Frank desires to see her again, but because of her father and her cello lessons, Ariane can only visit him in the afternoon. After one brief encounter, the American hits the road, but when he returns next year Ariane has a game of her own going. She offers false stories of a long list of lovers thus making Frank extremely jealous. Lucky for her, when the man finally discovers her true nature he is not dissuaded.

Being an Audrey fan, I love this movie unceasingly. Despite looking like a teenager and playing a character not far gone from that age, Audrey was 28 but still plenty shy of Cooper’s 56. The relationship should seem obscene, yet it does not. Audrey manages to play the alluring woman Cooper’s lover could easily desire while still maintaining some innocence. To those wanting to think their relationship consisted merely of some afternoon chat time, Wilder inserts hints that suggest otherwise. The passage of time, often preceded with something like the shedding of a fur coat, indicates the relationship spent plenty of time in the bedroom, whether we want to believe that of Audrey or not.

Wilder did a great job with Love in the Afternoon of catching Audrey in the finest lights. There were a handful of shots throughout when I thought, wow, she’s gorgeous. One could collect numerous artistic snapshots by freezing on certain of this woman’s expressions as she laughs, cries and loves.

Stalag 17

Wowza!

Stalag 17 (1953)

     Who knew that being a prisoner of war could be so funny or that William Holden could be so shady. Billy Wilder did and he made on hell of a hit with Stalag 17. A somewhat true story of American soldiers stuck in a German POW camp –or stalag in German– uses one of Wilder’s greatest devices: placing a comedy against a grim backdrop (he also often employed the opposite by inserting humor into serious stories). Additionally, Wilder cast Holden (over Charlton Heston) as a suspected German spy planted in the prisoner barrack. This is the first time I can remember seeing the leading man in a role that is not a charming, all-American, likeable guy.

     Wilder got his hands on Stalag 17 after it became a hit on Broadway. It was written by two WWII prisoners of war who decided to use their experience as the subject of a play. Wilder would largely change the dialogue from the stage production and wrote as he filmed the story in sequence. The story centers on one barrack at stalag 17 where the residents begin to suspect one of their roommates is spilling secrets to their Nazi prison guard. Because Wilder had not decided until the end of filming who that traitor would be, Stalag 17 becomes a movie that if you go back and watch it for a second time knowing what you do by the end, you still cannot detect and clues as to who the perpetrator is. The actors also did not know who would be the villain.

     The story itself works to convince the audience and all members of the barrack that Holden’s J.J. Sefton is the guy. He’s a great trader of goods and has a footlocker full of loot. He also bets against two soldiers who at the film’s start attempt to escape but are shot down by waiting Nazis just outside the camp’s grounds. Those two soldiers are Manfredi and Johnson, and if you’re a “Penguins of Madagascar” kids TV show fan, as I am, you’ll note that those are the names of the former comrades Skipper frequently mentions as befalling a tragic fate.

     Stalag 17 is full of great humor to the point the characters make it seem as though their circumstances are not too bad. Members of the barrack of focus are great pals with their assigned Nazi guard (Sig Ruman) and jokingly tell him to “dropeh zie dead” and to bring them roommates from the Russian women’s camp next door with nice “glockenspiels”. Setlif sells glimpses through a telescope he built looking towards the women’s delousing house and brews moonshine using old potato peels. The most amusing side characters are two men who came from the stage production: Robert Strauss as Animal and Harvey Lembeck as Shapiro. In one scene, a drunken Animal mistakes a cross-dressing Shapiro for the real Betty Grable, love of his life, and romantically dances with the fellow.

     Otto Preminger also shows up in one of his six total acting roles in his career as the Nazi commanding the camp. He is comically evil. When phoning Berlin to tell them he has found the man who sabotaged a train, he has his assistant put on his knee high boots so he may click his heels at attention when reporting over the phone, and that servant immediately removes the boots thereafter. Preminger, who like Wilder was an Austrian who fled the Nazis, said Wilder made him a detestable character he could not live down in pictures.

      Holden was asked to view the play version before filming started and walked out after the second act. He also protested during filming that his character seemed to be a Nazi friendly and asked to be given a line to the effect of “I hate Nazis”, but Wilder would not budge. His character is very dark and brooding. He is not friends with anyone besides Cookie (Gil Stratton Jr.), our narrator, who later seems to reject that friendship when it seems certain Sefton is the snitch. Holden’s role also seems to stay in the background of the story, with really no part rising to the surface as a clear leading man. The story is more about the association of men rather than one soldier in particular. Holden won the Best Actor Oscar for this part and gave reportedly the shortest acceptance speech in Academy Award history: Thank You. He also supposedly threw the award against a wall backstage because he felt, as his wife said to him on the ride home from the awards show, that he received the statuette sybolically for his part in Sunset Boulevard, which he made three years earlier also under Wilder.

Source: “Stalag 17: From Reality to Screen” DVD feature, TCM.com

A Foreign Affair

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Foreign Affair (1948)

I find it difficult to resist films featuring Marlene Dietrich or Jean Arthur but for entirely separate reasons. Whereas Dietrich is fascinatingly powerful and seductive in her typical roles, Arthur is adorable, innocent and hilarious. For the two of them to appear in a film together was a rather unexpected find, but quite rewarding.

A Foreign Affair involves the two rather opposite women fighting over the same man, but that is not the plot of the story. Arthur plays a congresswoman who is visiting Germany to analyze the morale of soldiers in the post-war occupation effort. Dietrich is a German singer who performs in a club meant to be off-limits to soldiers, and she might also have been close to a major Nazi influence during the war. While there, Arthur as Phoebe discovers that one of the soldiers has shielded this singer, Erika, from scrutiny because he is carrying on an affair with her. That soldier is John Pringle (John Lund), who has also agreed to help Phoebe search out the scoundrel and in the process starts to fall for her. Torn between two women, his passion and his duty, and kept busy by attempts to cover up his involvement, John is careening toward a world of hurt if he is found out. The real trouble, of course, is in explaining himself to Phoebe and convincing her that he does care for her.

Arthur began the film behaving utterly unlike the characters I am used to seeing her embody. She wears glasses, has a somewhat goofily conservative hairdo, and is too busy taking notes on every passing moment to enjoy the view from the airplane. As she begins to loosen up through her contact with John, she enjoys life’s experiences rather than jotting them down and even buys a dress on the black market to be appropriately clad for that off-limits club.

Dietrich began the film also in a persona unlike what I typically see. We first meet her in a small flat ravaged by the war, wearing the simplest of clothing and fawning over a pair of nylons John brings her. I would not have called her helpless at this stage, but she certainly failed to exude the power customary of her roles. That changes, however, when we see the glittery and glamorous Erika perform at the club. As the film goes on, her confidence and cleverness shines through, especially when standing off with Phoebe.

A Foreign Affair is also a visually attractive film, despite being set in the ruins of Berlin. Director Billy Wilder oft uses reflections to complete his shots. Two specific devices –a mirror in Erika’s home and a window in the club– are used as a means to show two people in one shot with only one of them directly in front of the camera –one of my favorite cinematographic devices.

I would highly recommend A foreign Affair. It is a great combination of humor, drama and serious emotional situations, and I do not think any other actresses could better have filled the roles.

The Lost Weekend

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The Lost Weekend (1945)

     Alcohol was ever-present in old movies as were people going on the occasional bender and the familiar drunk character. Never before, however, have I seen a classic film tackle the subject of alcoholism, let alone use that term. The Lost Weekend depicts the dark existence of a man addicted to alcohol and the four-day weekend that seems to turn things around.

    The film never supposes that the events occurring within are in any way more extreme than what Don Birnam (Ray Milland) has played out over the past six years of his addiction, yet at the film’s close we are left thinking this will be the time he breaks free. Birnam is a failed writer who turned to alcohol after promising early career prospects marked the peak in a since-dwindling talent. He lives by the good graces of his brother, Wick, played by Phillip Terry. The film opens with a great moving shot of New York City that pulls us toward a particular brick building, zooming in on a window from which a bottle of rye hangs by a rope. Inside Don and Wick are packing for a four-day or more weekend at “the farm,” where Don can recover from “what he’s been through”. The man is supposedly back on the wagon and intends to take his typewriter with him to work on a novel, but while his brother digs in a closet for the device, Don tries unsuccessfully to detach the rye from its rope.

     Don’s girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) arrives to wish them well, but Don persuades his brother that they can take a later train so that Helen has a parter with which to attend the symphony. That partner is not Don, however; it’s Wick. Assuring the pair that he will remain in the apartment and stay off the stuff, Don instead hits the liquor store and his favorite bar after tracking down $10 in the apartment meant for the cleaning lady. Although he asks the bartender to remind him to leave by a certain time to meet his brother for the train, Don is long past drunk by the time he is late and his brother goes to the farm without him. Helen waits but Don sneaks past her into the apartment where he finishes one of the two bottles.

     A number of events ensue over the next several days. When his money runs out Don goes to pawn his typewriter, but being Yom Kippur, no hock shop is open. He visits a bar regular at her apartment (after having stood her up for a date) and begs for money. On his way out he falls down some stairs and wakes up in the alcoholic ward of the hospital. There he learns about the delusions his peers suffer. After escaping from the hospital he returns home with a new bottle, discovers the imaginary “tiny animals” himself and begins screaming. Helen comes to the rescue and tries to clean up her man. Instead, he takes off with her leopard coat and pawns it in exchange for his old gun.

     The Lost Weekend is brimming with one impactful event after another. Director Billy Wilder adapted the tale from the novel by Charles R. Jackson. Wilder had picked up the book when stopping in Chicago in the midst of a Hollywood-to-New York train trip. By the time he reached the Big Apple, he was calling studios about acquiring the film rights. Wilder knew the movie would bring the lead actor an Oscar, which it did, but he might not have guessed that it would win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Miland truly deserves his award. With his facial expressions alone the man shares paranoia, fear, relief, hatred and anguish with the audience. It is difficult to know what an alcoholic experiences without being one, but Miland truly does make the viewer understand how it might feel. A grand picture all around.

  • The Lost Weekend is set for noon ET Jan. 30 and 10 a.m. ET Feb. 28 on TCM.
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