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What to Watch: Friday

The royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton holds no great appeal for me unlike many in America, however, the grand event, set for Friday, brings with it a cinematic celebration of sorts on Turner Classic Movies. That evening, the channel will air a number of royal-themed films, all of which happen to be good flicks.

Royal Wedding (1951)

First up at 8 p.m. ET is Royal Wedding starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell and Peter Lawford. I have never been in love with Astaire but usually watch his films anyway. This one, however, is among my favorites. Astaire and Powell are a brother and sister musical duo on tour in London for Elizabeth II’s wedding. Powell meets Lawford and the two have an adorable romance. Meanwhile, Astaire tries to court a dancer. The musical contains the famous “Dancing on the Ceiling” number whereby a trick of simultaneously rotating camera and set make it seem as though Astaire is actually walking on the walls and ceiling (the same effect was used in certain scenes of 2010’s Inception). This is also the first solo directing credit for Stanley Donen.

Roman Holiday (1953)

 
Next on the schedule is Roman Holiday airing at 10 p.m. Given that Audrey Hepburn is my favorite actress, I naturally love this flick directed by William Wyler. It was her first major role and she won her only Best Actress Oscar. Hepburn plays Princess Ann who runs away while visiting Rome and is rescued by American reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, after sleeping pills have her adopting a street-side bench as a bed. The young princess explores the city anonymously, although Bradley has figured out who she is. No one could have played the free-spirited Ann like Audrey.

The Glass Slipper (1955)

A new take on a classic princess story, Cinderella, is the subject of the 12:15 a.m. airing of The Glass Slipper. Leslie Caron plays the pauper who is lucky enough to attend the prince’s ball. This flick is not as great as the previous two, but it is a nice live-action musical with one of the greatest musical stars of France: Caron. It also offers a realistic take on the fairy godmother character, who is a crazy old lady that fell from a prominent position in society after “reading too many books”.

The Swan (1956)

Finally, if you can make it to 2 a.m. you will be entreated to a romantic Grace Kelly flick that predicts her eventual royalty. The Swan casts Kelly as a princess whose family has fallen out of the good graces of a greater sect of the family that includes the queen. To save the family, Kelly’s Alexandra must win over a distant cousin (Alec Guinness) and marry him. The trouble is, she is in love with her tutor (Louis Jourdan). It is one of the less memorable of Kelly’s roles but a great one anyway.

 
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Hitchcock Blogathon #8: Rear Window

Ring a Ding Ding

Rear Window (1954)

     Hitchcock loved to focus on voyeurism in his films and never was it more apparent than in Rear Window. The camera never leaves the apartment of L.B. Jefferies, played by Jimmy Stewart, who watches the goings on of the courtyard and apartments within view of his living room, where he is confined because of a broken leg. The director cutely developes the characters of people we never see close up: the newlyweds, the struggling songwriter, the dancer “Miss Torso”, the woman with a dog, “Miss Lonelyhearts” and most importantly the salesman and his invalid wife.

     When Jeffries hears screams one night, he begins to suspect the salesman has killed his wife. Jeffries’ girlfriend, Lisa, who is a model played naturally by Grace Kelly, joins in on the people-watching as the two try to determine what happened to the wife. The most thrilling moments are when Lisa sneaks into the suspect’s apartment to dig up clues while Jeffries (and the audience) is left impotent across the yard watching as danger approaches the young beauty.

     Thelma Ritter comes in as an insurance company nurse required to check up on the laid up Jeffries. She was transformed from the original story in Dime Detective Magazine from a black servant into the wise cracking character as a device to unite the audience. Writer John Michael Hayes said comedy could bring audience members together. Once they “had laughed together they could gasp together, they could clutch the seats together, and they could scream together,” he said. The girlfriend did not exist at all in the short story and so fully changed the extent to which the story could go.

     This rare first-person perspective is less about fancy camera angles and more about the fantastic set, dialogue and story, which in itself is thrilling enough. The set was an accomplishment. Thirty-one apartments, 12 of which were fully furnished, made up the courtyard. The actors in the faraway shots were equipped with mini microphones through which they received instructions from Hitchcock about their movements. The camera often moved in one take across the various apartment windows, requiring all actors be on their toes for their cues.

The MacGuffin: What’s buried in the garden.

Where’s Hitch? About 25 minutes in he winds a clock in the songwriters apartment.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

14 Hours

Ring a Ding Ding

14 Hours (1951)

     At last I have triumphed over one of my movie checklists. 14 Hours concludes my viewing of all Grace Kelly Movies but unfortunately had very little of the princess. Being her first film, I knew she did not have a lead role, but she still leaves a memorable impact in this striking picture. From her appearance, one would not think this was Kelly’s first appearance on the big screen (she had done some TV dramas prior). She’s done up in her typical fashion: fur coat, black veil headpiece, glistening blonde hair, which belied her 21 years of age. Oddly, she would next make High Noon in which she looks the least like the Grace Kelly moviegoers came to know.

     Kelly was offered a stock contract with Fox after completing the flick but declined it to return to the theater, where she had worked on Broadway and in her home state of Pennsylvania. She was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and also did some modeling work in the early days to supplement her income. Her real break-out role was the aforementioned High Noon, in which she was cast as a Quaker bride because of her inexperience and natural reserved personality. With only 11 motion pictures to her credit, Kelly was choosy about which films she would take on, and frankly, Green Fire might be the only stinker among the bunch. It was actually in her least glamorous role, the wife of an alcoholic in The Country Girl, that landed her a Best Actress Oscar. She was also nominated for a supporting role in her third film, Mogambo.

     I will contend that High Society was a splendid end to Kelly’s Hollywood career, although I know Philadelphia Story purist will disagree. She married Prince Ranier and became princess of Monaco in 1956, just five years after making 14 Hours. Director Alfred Hitchcock, with whom she made three features, tried to lure her back to the movies after starting her new life, but scenes such as a marital rape in Marnie did not sit well with the people of Monaco. Unfortunately, Hitchcock failed to adequately replace the golden-haired star with Tippi Hendren, Eva Marie Saint and Kim Novak. So Kelly remained in Monaco, making a visit to her Hollywood haunts with her children in the ’60s. Princess Grace died prematurely in 1982 after suffering a slight stroke at the wheel of her car while traveling with her daughter down a road allegedly featured in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. The daughter was fine, but Kelly died from her injuries.

     14 Hours itself is a pretty great film. It is entirely centered around a man (Richard Basehart) perched on the ledge of a hotel 15 or so stories up. The film commences with him on the ledge and follows until he is finally inside after what I assume to be 14 hours. One traffic cop (Paul Douglas) manages to gain the prepared jumper’s confidence and talks to him throughout the whole ordeal trying to determine what has upset him. Kelly shows up as a high society woman visiting her lawyer’s office in order to finalize a divorce. The office provides her a view of the building. The streets are also blocked and crowded with what looks to be half the population of New York. Besides the action in the hotel, a couple small plots unfold among the spectators. Kelly’s character finds compassion after watching the man for a couple hours and decides not to follow through on the divorce, to her husband’s delight. Two young people standing next to each other in the crowd fall in love, lose each other and are reunited. Agnes Moorehead comes in as the man’s mother and gives a great performance as a patronizing matron. Barbara Bel Geddes also shows up as an ex-girlfriend, who might be the source of his anguish.

     The movie uses only diegetic sound until the story’s resolution, but it is not a quiet film. Always in the background is the sound from the street below as the thousands of spectators mutter concern and hedge their bets. This serves to really focus attention on the very human aspects of the film. The picture seems less like a movie and more like an actual crisis unfolding. Without music to tell the viewer when to be on-edge, the audience is left constantly nervous. 14 Hours might have inspired in part the contemporary Phone Booth, which takes place entirely in and around a phone booth, but also has some sinister stuff going on that this film lacks.

     Douglas really gives a splendid performance as the middle-aged, lower-ranked cop who seems to be the only one who truly cares about the man’s troubles. 14 Hours did not do well at the box office despite critical acclaim, so it is understandable why such a good picture has faded into cinematic history. This is not one that I have ever seen scheduled on TCM, so I had to Netflix it. Good thing it is available on DVD.

Sources: Grace Kelly: A Life in Pictures by Jenny Curtis; Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

Green Fire

Gasser

Green Fire (1955)

     I now find myself a single step away from completing my Grace Kelly checklist and having seen all the princess’ movies. Thankfully, last week TCM played the hard-to-locate Green Fire leaving only Fourteen Hours on my list, which happens to be a disc or two away on my Netflix queue. Victory is within my reach making the hum-drum Green Fire completely worth the time.

    Although the magnanimous Grace Kelly was a pleasure to watch in Green Fire, her surrounding characters left something to be desired, namely Stewart Granger‘s Rian X. Mitchell (first of all, who has X as a middle initial?). The story follow’s Rian’s hunt for “green fire,” or emeralds, in Columbia. He locates a mine he thinks will be fruitful and that lies on a mountain above Kelly’s character’s coffee plantation. Catherine and Rian are in love but this does not preclude the latter from slyly persuading his girlfriend’s brother to give him the family’s only $10,000 and all 200 of the plantation’s workers to assist the expedition.

     The bizarre thing is Rian never came off as ruthless enough to willingly hurt Catherine and her livelihood. Ambitious, yes. Ruthless, no. Not only that, but the “step mining” technique his workers employ (similar to today’s strip mining) ends up dumping rock and foliage into the river, altering its course and causing it to threaten to flood the coffee plantation once the rainy season starts (which apparently was later that day). Obviously Catherine is furious, and the death of her brother under Rian’s charge does not help.

     Catherine resolves to — with some help — blow up a portion of the mountain thus redirecting the river’s flow and destroying Rian’s work in the process. SPOILER ALERT A shoot out with some bandits leads Rian to do the right thing and destroy his claim (only after seeing Catherine cry, of course) and thus save them from the attack. Low and behold, that’s all he had to do to re-win Catherine’s heart. Nevermind her brother is still dead. Also — and this likely reflects the times — but no one seems to mind that Rian and his workers are in effect destroying the facade of the mountain and all the wildlife by mining the land from the surface. If one were to make this movie today, it would include protesters or a main character raising her voice about how this outsider is ruining their natural surroundings.

     Hopefully Fourteen Hours will be a better Kelly experience. It was her first film, so I do not think her character is a lead spot. Still, perhaps the best way to end a list is to go to the beginning. Look for that review soon.

Cinematic Shorts: High Society

Wowza!

High Society (1956)

     I have always considered myself a fan of musicals, but in recent years I have discovered I am a bit choosy on that front. For instance, I cannot stand The Sound of Music or South Pacific and was fairly bored with The King and I. If Kathryn Grayson is singing in a picture, forget it. I really enjoyed Show Boat, but I literally fast-forwarded through her songs.

     High Society, however, was the perfect combination of elements for me. Not only does it feature some of my favorite singer-actors, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but offers Cole Porter songs (my favorite songwriter) and the glorious Grace Kelly in her final role before becoming Princess Grace and in her only on-screen singing spot. Add in Louis Armstrong as himself, and this had no choice but to be a favorite.

     The story is a musical version of The Philadelphia Story that transplants the action to Newport News, New Jersey. The dialogue is identical in many cases, yet the roles seem to fit the respective actors perfectly. I understand that many people will side with Philadelphia Story when presented with this adaptation, but I saw High Society first, so I am biased. I definitely enjoy the original that transformed Katharine Hepburn from box office poison to gold, but why not go for the version with songs?

"Well did you eva?"

  • High Society is set for 6 p.m. ET Nov. 21 on TCM

New! List After List

I have debuted a new tab to the top of the site labeled “Lists”. Here I will make available a compendium of the various movie checklists I keep for myself. Not only will this allow me to electronically keep track of my progress, but it should give you some insight as to what movies I have seen and which I have not (there are some surprises in the latter category).

I have two lists prepared to start and other, actor-related versions will come shortly.

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