Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Title: Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Year: 1941
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
Screenplay: Norman Krasna
Source Material: This was an original screenplay
Running Time: 90 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 28th November, 11:50am
One of my Hitchcock books states that Suspicion comes first, but others (more accurately) tell how Mr. and Mrs. Smith was filmed first and screened first, so I don't know why sources differ.
This was one of my last batch of Hitchcock films to own on DVD and so I had not seen it that long ago, but I am a stickler for doing things correctly and I have to watch everything chronologically.
Is it getting too tedious me mentioning how I watch these movies laid out on the settee with a mug of tea and a snack (in today's case, two mince pies)? If so, tough luck.
I might also add that Fizzgig, my delightful ten-year-old female ginger British Short-hair cat, was more than happy to sprawl over my chest and left shoulder throughout the movie, making it rather difficult to take notes along the way. Oh well, she loves me and I couldn't bear to move her.

Ann Krausheimer Smith - Carole Lombard
David Smith - Robert Montgomery
Jefferon Custer - Gene Raymond
Chuck Benson - Jack Carson
Mr Custer - Philip Merivale
Mrs Custer - Lucille Watson
Sammy - William Tracy
Mr Harry Deever - Charles Halton
Mrs Krausheimer - Esther Dale
Martha - Emma Dunn
Gertie - Betty Compson
Gloria - Patricia Farr
Proprietor of 'Mama Lucy's' - William Edmunds
Lily - Adele Pearce

It's New York. A couple are in their bedroom of their serviced apartment and evidence suggests they have not been out for days. He is sat on the floor (tellingly) playing Solitaire with cards and she is under the bed covers.
The couple are Ann and David Smith. They have been married since 1937 and they live their married lives with certain rules which they adhere too strictly. One such rule is that if they have a fight, they are not allowed to leave the bedroom until they have made up - we are catching them at the end of a three-day sulk-fest.
Having made up, they dress and have breakfast together. They seem quite smug about how their rules work (her more so than he) and contemplate that many divorces would not happen should everyone abide by them in this way.
However, this very morning, Ann asks a hypothetical question to David - if he had the chance to do it all over again, would he still marry her. He answers honestly and says 'no'.
Rather than be impressed with his honesty, she is hurt.

At his office that day, David meets a man named Harry Deever who informs him that there were a number of weddings performed between 1936 and the present day in Beecham that, due to a rather annoying geographical technicality based on jurisdiction, their marriage is actually not legal. David is rather amused by this. He calls Ann at home but does not tell her - instead he asks her out for dinner that evening at the restaurant from their premarital days.
Unfortunately for David, Mr Deever also calls in on Ann (who is being visited by her mother) and tells her the news.
Ann's mother is appalled at the news, but Ann is rather excited about the evening's romantic dinner - she is expecting him to propose all over again. She even digs out her old wedding outfit to wear.

That evening, they attend 'Mama Lucy's' but it is no longer the dreamy little eatery they once knew. It is now a run-down cafe with little charm and a cat who eats off the tables. They try to make the best of it, but are put off by some poor children staring at them and the cat who sits on their table refusing to even touch their food.
David is teasing out the evening, enjoying himself, unaware that Ann knows the truth about their sham marriage.

Back at their apartment, he continues his game of "I know something you don't know" until she loses her temper and throws a bottle of champagne at him. Then it all comes out. She assumes he was waiting to sleep with her again before telling her, but she is having none of it. She is appalled by his deception and throws him out.

He has to attend the gentleman's club known as 'Beefeaters' where he meets up with an old friend, Chuck Benson, who gives him some masculine camaraderie.
Over the next few days, David does what he can to get to see Ann and talk to her. She slams the door in his face, giving him a nosebleed; he waits for her in the foyer of her building, only to find her returning home from a dinner date with an elderly gent; he even jumps into the same taxi as her only to find she has now got her own job in a department store. It seems the elderly gent was to be her employer.

He makes quite a scene in the store and upon discovering that their new employee is 'married' (it is against their policy to employ married women in this time of unemployment crisis) and seemingly rather erratic, they are both ejected from the building.

David talks to his partner, Jefferson Custer, about the situation because the whole scenario has affected his work. Jeff says he'll talk to Ann. That night, when David turns up, Jeff has sided with Ann, telling her she has every right to remain single and even asks her out on a date himself.

Poor David returns to Beefeaters where Chuck suggests they have a double date - David suggests that they do so at the same nightclub/restaurant that Jeff and Ann will be dining at.

The evening is a disaster! David's date is a little too common for his taste and his attempt at making Ann jealous falls flat on its face. He gives himself a nosebleed in order to escape the situation but does, in fact, make the whole nightmare worse.

Ann leaves with Jeff to get a different atmosphere and they attend the fairground where they both get stuck on a ride in a downpour. Once rescued (but on the verge of pneumonia), they return to Jeff's apartment where she forces the non-drinker to take some alcohol. It only takes two glasses to get him sloshed.

Later in the week, it appears that David has been pretending to be a private detective and has hired a cab driver to follow Ann around. They follow her to his own offices. When he catches up with her inside, he discovers her meeting with Jeff and his parents. David intervenes and gives them a bit of a history lesson telling tales which make the Custers believe Ann is white trash.
Ann is furious with David and his underhand tactics.

Time moves on and Jeff has taken Ann to the hills for a skiing trip. The lodge is full, but there are some cabins nearby where they can stay - they only need a sleigh ride to and from the lodge for meals, other than that, they have relative privacy - except David is there. He is cold and he passes out. they carry him inside and nurse him back to health. However, he is feigning his illness just to illicit sympathy from Ann - it seems to work. Jeff notices and tells Ann he is willing to step aside as he just wants her to be happy. She thinks he is talking nonsense.
When Ann realises that David has been faking it, she loses her temper. She plans to make him hate her by acting out a charade in the neighbouring cabin involving rather dubious sexual shenanigans. David is furious and storms in to catch her. She tells him how she feels and how she wanted him out of her life. The Custers (all three) arrive and Jeff's parents are not impressed. They take Jefferson away back to the lodge by sleigh, leaving David and Ann alone.
She is willing to ski back to the lodge, despite her lack of skill. David offers to help her on with her skis, but she becomes locked into them and struggles to stand up again. Like Shakespeare's shrew, she kicks up a fuss, but as David settles in for the night and moves in for the kiss, she relents and the two make up once more...

Great Lines
For a screwball comedy, there are actually not that many examples of crackling dialogue, but I want to highlight a handful that made me smile.

When Ann is trying on her old outfit from her wedding day, she complains to her maid; "I can't understand anything hanging in the closet shrinking so much!"

During the scene at 'Mama Lucy's', Ann's mother calls to find out how it is going and upon hearing the rather negative response, she retorts; "Oh my poor baby - thank heavens your father is dead!"

Whilst Ann is shaving the 'semi-unconscious' David at the log cabin, he reaches out for Jeff's hand as if expecting a manicure. They humour him, but...

Jeff: "He's squeezing my hand!"
Ann: "In a few moments he'll probably ask for your phone number."

Finally, in a rather explosive tantrum, Ann loses her patience with Jeff and David. Whilst holding a lamp, ready to throw it at the first sign of provocation, she launches into this tirade...

"(To Jeff:) Listen to me you stuffed shirt; even a mouse has enough back bone to fight some times. You know, taking your hat off in an elevator doesn't make a man out of you - you can teach a monkey to do that... and I'll take a mouse or a monkey anytime - whether he's a dipsomaniac of beats his wife - over a lump of jelly like you! (to David:) But I'm not taking you... (back to Jeff:) Why don't you go out and get a girl guide and go camping together!! Let me out of here before I forget I'm a lady!!"

After she storms out, David simply states to Jeff and his appalled parents; "You have just seen her in one of her quieter moods."

This one is a rarity amongst Hitchcock films - it's a screwball comedy - but with his dear friend Carole Lombard eager to star, he was happy to do something a little different (although in later years he would admit to having his doubts about wanting to film it. In his words; "I want to direct a typical American comedy about typical Americans" which, with hindsight, could be an insult in disguise given how the main characters behave toward each other.
In an interview with David Brady, published in the new york times in 1950, hitch stated; "If I seem doomed to make one type of picture, the movie audience is responsible. people go to one of my films expecting a thriller, and they aren't satisfied until the thrill turns up."

For me, the best scene in the film is where David is out on his double date with Chuck and the two somewhat uncouth girls and when David spies Ann there with Jeff, he feigns conversation with the beautiful woman to his left on the adjoining table to make it appear he is with her. The comic timing as she and her actual partner catch him before he realises is, as they say, 'comedy gold'.
It's also a hoot watching Robert Montgomery trying to give himself a nosebleed in order to get out of the situation he's in.

Although it may seem churlish to say, it is a great shame Cary Grant (the first choice for the role of David Smith) was unavailable due to other work commitments - he would have been splendid in the lead role as he has proved in other films such as the delightful Bringing Up Baby. I do not want to take credit away from Robert Montgomery though - he does a fine job. (And, fact fans, he was also the father of Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery, so that's all rather splendid - I still think she was one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the Earth.)

Sadly, this was to be Carole Lombard's penultimate movie as she died just a year later in a plane crash. She was only 33.

My Verdict
I love screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s, but I am afraid to say this is not one of the best. It needs better (and more) gags; it does entertain though. Sadly, the ending is rather weak. 6/10

Quotes from the interviews with Hitchcock are taken from 'Hitchcock on Hitchcock' edited by Sidney Gottlieb and 'The Dark Side of Genius' by Donald Spoto.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Foreign Correspondent

Title: Foreign Correspondent
Year: 1940
Studio: United Artists/Walter Wagner
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton & Robert Benchley
Source Material: Partially inspired by 'Personal History' by Vincent Sheean
Running Time: 120 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 21st November, 7:00am
I was sincerely worried I was not going to find the time this weekend to do this next entry in my blog. I had a busy weekend with an awful lot of domestic duties and a couple of social engagements. I also assumed I was going to have a lie in this morning due to the raucous party happening over the road which went on into the wee small hours. Thankfully, my ever hungry cat woke me up bright and early to sate her appetite, so I was able to watch Foreign Correspondent before leaving to go and see some friends for lunch.
I may also add that I wouldn't have minded too much if I'd had to forego this weekend's movie as I need to break the habit so that I don't feel too much pressure to adhere to a strict schedule. Heaven knows, I am not going to be able to keep it up whilst on holiday early next year! All the same, I feel better having done it this morning. (Please forgive the rather rushed tone of the synopsis, but I am trying to write it in a hurry - you'll get the gist, I'm sure.)

John Jones/'Huntley Haverstock' - Joel McCrea
Carol Fisher - Laraine Day
Stephen Fisher - Herbert Marshall
Scott ffolliott* - George Sanders
Von Meer - Albert Bassermann
Stebbins - Robert Benchley
Mr Rowley - Edmund Gwenn
Mr Krug - Eduardo Ciannelli
Mr Powers - Harry Davenport
Tramp - Martin Kosleck
Mrs Sprague - Frances Carson
Stiles - Charles Wagenheim
Latvian - Edward Conrad
Bradley - Charles Halton
Dorine - Barbara Pepper
"Mohican" Captain - Emory Parnell
Mr Brood - Roy Gordon
Mrs Benson - Gertrude Hoffman
Captain - Martin Lamont
Steward - Barry Bernard
Asst. Commissioner - Holmes Herbert
McKenna - Leonard Mudie
English Announcer - John Burton

*No, this is not a typo... Scott explains: "One of my ancestors had his head chopped off by Henry VIII and his wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate the occasion!"

"To those intrepid ones who went across the seas to be the eyes and ears of America.... To those forthright ones who early saw the clouds of war while many of us at home were seeing rainbows.... To those clear-headed ones who now stand like recording angels among the dead and dying....
To the foreign correspondents - - this motion picture is dedicated."

The New York Morning Globe - It's August 19th, 1939. Mr Powers, the newspaper editor is frustrated with the lack of information coming from overseas in regard to the crisis in Europe. He calls for Jon Jones to his office - a crime reporter - as he wants someone with a different attitude to go over and find a hardcore story. Johnny is keen to go, as long as he gets a decent expense account which he gets. He is assigned an assumed name - Huntley Haverstock - and he sets off on the Queen Mary.
He meets another 'Globe' employee - Stebbins - in London and he gives him a few pointers.
Jones' job is to get to know a man named Von Meer from Holland who signed a certain peace treaty. He is to get to him via a Mr Stephen Fisher who is head of the Universal Peace Party.
On August 25th, Jones is feeling his part as he dresses in the typical London outfit - bowler and brolly at the ready - he meets Von Meer and shares a taxi, but Von Meer is evasive and would rather talk about birds.

At the Savoy hotel, they are attending a conference. Inititally, the guests mingle and John is particularly enamoured with one of the young women he assumes is with the press. It turns out she is Fisher's daughter, Carol, and he is enchanted.
Oddly, Von Meer disappears, despite being a key-note speaker at the Peace Party conference.
The next day, John travels to Amsterdam to find him again. Outside the conference building, he spies Von Meer approaching up the stone steps. As he goes to greet him, Von Meer is shot in the head by an assassin in disguise as a photographer. Jones chases the killer through the crowd underneath the skin of umbrellas. A few passers-by get wounded in the ensuing chase. The killer escapes in a car, but Jones chases after him along with Miss Fisher and her friend Scott ffolliott. They lose the car amongst some windmills, but John is suspicious when he notices one of the sails turning against the wind. He sends Scott and Carol away to fetch the police whilst he investigates. He finds the killer's car and sneaks into the windmill. Hear he spies the criminals, but also discovers Von Meer, alive and well, but drugged. He discovers that the man who was shot was a double so that the world would think he was dead whilst the enemy try to get information about the secret treaty from him.
Jones escapes through a window and returns to the nearby village. When he returns with the police, Scott and Carol - the spies have fled by plane along with Von Meer. They discover a tramp at the windmill which discredits Jones' story.

Jones telegrams his newspaper:


Back at the hotel in Amsterdam, two men arrive at Jones' room dressed as policemen. He is suspicious and escapes through his bathroom window and creeps around the exterior of the building in his dressing gown and climbs into Carol's bedroom. He has to persuade her of his situation - she is reluctant at first, but soon comes round. They return to England by boat, but due to a rush on people trying to return home form Europe, there is a lack of cabins and Carol and John profess their love to each other at night, wrapped in rugs on the cold deck.
Back at her father's home, he tells the story to her father. However, he is in league with the enemy and his colleague, Mr Krug, is recognised by Jones as a man from the windmill. In private, Krug and Fisher plan for Jones to be eliminated and under the guise of assigning him a body guard, actually put him under the 'protection' of an assassin, Mr Rowley.
However, Rowley's attempts on Jones' life fail and ultimately lead to his own demise as he falls from the tower at the cathedral.
This prompts Jones to talk to Stebbins and ffolliott about it. It is ffolliott's decision to pretend to kidnap Carol in order to get information from Fisher. John is not utterly convinced but as it can appear that he is merely taking her away to a safe haven (in this case, Cambridge) he does not see the harm.
Whilst at The College Arms in Cambridge, Carol overhears John booking the rooms for the night and imagines the worst and leaves secretively to return home, upset and heartbroken.
Scott ffolliott takes the information of the kidnapping to Mr Fisher unaware of Carol's imminent return. Stephen Fisher is initially concerned, but he hears Carol's car return and ffolliott's plan fails so he leaves... Overhearing an address given to a taxi driver, ffolliott manages to follow Fisher to the location where they are torturing Von Meer. He enters, but is held at gunpoint. Von Meer is at breaking point and is about to give all the details of the treaty. Scott starts a fight and leaps out of the window, but by the time he returns with help, the gang of spies have fled once more.

War is declared between Germany and Britain.
Fisher and his daughter, all forlorn, are on the plane back to America. Unknown to them, they are joined by Scott and John. Fisher learns of their presence when he intercepts a telegram for ffolliott warning of his own imminent arrest. Knowing his future is pretty certain, he confesses all to his daughter, but she is one step ahead and has guessed most of it already. John and Scott make themselves known to the Fishers, but the plane is attacked from a German boat below. They lose and engine and a wing and they plunge into the sea. Many people are drowned, but a handful (including our core cast) survive and cling onto the loose wing as the rest of the plane sinks. There is too much weight from the survivors - Stephen Fisher heroically gives his own life to save his daughter's.
An American boat picks up the remaining few and Jones is able to tell his story to the globe over the phone, with permission from Carol.
The war is )obviously) not prevented, but we learn that John gets the job as foreign correspondent for America and stoically strives to report the atrocities from London over the airwaves with Carol by his side.
The End.

Great Lines
Of course it's pretty reasonable to assume this piece of foreshadowing was never intended, but I love the fact it signals things to come in 23 years' time:

John: "...I do think that right now birds are the least of our problems."

Von Meer's line telling of his despair is given beautifully - it's rather touching and poignant:
"I feel very old and sad and helpless..."

And finally, an amusing exchange between John Jones and his ineffectual would-be assassin on the state of policing in teh United Kingdom as opposed to the United States.

Rowley: "Even our police don't carry guns!"
Jones: "What do they do then?"
Rowley: "Biff you over the head with a stick. It's more 'ealthy, like..."

I am fond of this film for a number of reasons. I think the cast are pretty much spot-on throughout the movie. If I have one complaint, its the romance between the two leads. It does seem a little forced and unnatural. However, this is combated slightly by the wonderfully offbeat and self-aware scene in which Carol and John declare their love bluntly whilst freezing at night on the deck of a ship. There's no fantastical romance cliches, just straightforward statements. It could have been terrible as the written lines could look corny, but the actors make them work.

There are some wonderful moments in this film. Here are just a few:

1. The now famous and frequently copied scene with the birds' eye view of the crowd with umbrellas on the steps of the conference hall.
2. The brilliant special effects shot of the camera zooming in through the window of the flying plane into the scene within.
3. The whole plane crash into the ocean is breathtaking.
4. The cunning way Jones, ffolliott and Carol Fisher manage to report the story back to the Globe via the hidden phone so that the Captain of the Mohican won't suspect. It's almost farcical, but it's a welcome happy moment after a traumatic number of events.

Admittedly, the playing of star-spangled banner does grate a little at the end for anyone who is not American as it appears a little self-righteous, but the pomp is understandably respectable given its contemporary setting.

My Verdict
Another pacy and enjoyable ride - it's one of those two hour films that doesn't feel that long. George Sanders is superb too. 8/10

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Title: Rebecca
Year: 1940
Studio: A Selznick International Picture
Screenplay: Robert E Sherwood & Joan Harrison; Adapted by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan
Source Material: From the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Running Time: 130 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 14th November, 10:45
Here we are at the beginning of Hitchcock's Hollywood career which would also be the most successful part of his life in the movie industry. I have loved sitting through his silent movies and then his talkies during those early British years. They have a distinct charm and appeal but, most importantly, they provide a viewing audience with a fascinating insight into the genius of a man in the early development of his career as he hones his skills to perfection.
I have been looking forward to today's movie as it's one of my favourites. I love the novel and this adaptation is exquisite. It was the right time too; morning tea, mince pies and my feet up on the settee - leading perfectly into lunchtime.

George Fortesque Maximilian de Winter - Laurence Olivier
The second Mrs de Winter - Joan Fontaine
Jack Favell - George Sanders
Mrs Danvers - Judith Anderson
Giles Lacy - Nigel Bruce
Frank Crawley - Reginald Denny
Colonel Julyan - C. Aubrey Smith
Beatrice Lacy - Gladys Cooper
Mrs Edythe Van Hopper - Florence Bates
The Coroner - Melville Cooper
Dr Baker - Leo G Carroll
Ben - Leonard Carey
Tabbs - Lumsden Hare
Frith - Edward Fielding
Robert - Philip Winter
Chalcroft - Forrester Harvey

We begin with a flashback as our narrator describes a dream in which she returns to the house that once featured rather dramatically in her life. We then head back further to an incident which began it all, on a cliff top in Monte Carlo...

A young shy girl with mousey hair and a sketch pad under her arm sees a man standing close to the edge of a cliff. She calls out and he admonishes her for being foolish.
Later, back at the hotel at which she is staying with her employer, the gregarious American, Mrs Van Hopper, she sees the man again. This time he is composed and polite and she discovers he is Maximilian de Winter. She falls for his dashing good looks and charms immediately.
Whilst staying at Monte Carlo, Mrs Van Hopper becomes ill and she allows her young companion to do her own thing and believes she is taking tennis lessons, however, she is secretly meeting with Maxim and they spend many beautiful days together taking drives in the countryside. She learns from Mrs Van Hopper that his first wife died by drowning just the year before. Our heroine is mortified.

Mrs Van Hopper learns that her daughter is getting married and she plans to return to New York immediately but her young companion is horrified because she knows this means she won't get to see Maxim ever again. She goes to his room and explains and he asks her to return to his home, 'Manderley', in Cornwall with him as his wife. She is flabbergasted, but agrees heartily. Mrs Van Hopper feigns congratulations to Maxim, but in private, she scalds her now ex-companion for lying and being so incredibly foolish, predicting it will all go horribly wrong.

Maxim and his new wife return to Manderley after their honeymoon and are greeted by rain and an awaiting staff including Frith, the butler, and Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper. Mrs Danvers seems ultimately unimpressed with Manderley's new mistress.
She is shown to her room in the east wing and Mrs Danvers explains that she arrived her with the first Mrs de Winter when the latter was a bride. The west wing has been closed since her death.

Over the next few days, Maxim's new bride tries to settle into her new home. She meets Frank Crawley, a pleasant and engaging man who runs the estate for Maxim. She also meets Maxim's sister Beatrice and her husband Giles Lacy.
She discovers that the house is run (and has always been run) in a certain way and no one refrains from letting her know. On occasion, she forgets her role, having been only in service to others recently, and makes a number of mistakes which puzzle the staff.
She is also constantly aware of the presence of Rebecca as her belongings still lie scattered around the foreboding building with her initials adorning linen and stationery.

One afternoon, she goes with Maxim and their dog Jasper for a walk. She innocently begs to go down to a small cove where she chases after Jasper who is trying to get into a small cottage. There is a strange man named Ben who fears that Rebecca is one day going to return. he seems genuinely fearful of her. When Mrs de Winter enters the cottage to find some rope to act as a leash for Jasper, she discovers more of Rebecca's belongings. This must have been a home away from home...

haunted by her fears and the 'ghost' of Rebecca, the new Mrs de Winter confides in Frank Crawley who is comforting and respectful of her concerns. However, he does describe Rebecca as being one of the most beautiful creatures he has ever seen.
This inspires our heroine to buy new, more fashionable dresses from London and even does her hair differently, just in an attempt to live up to the late Rebecca's legacy.

One day, while Maxim is in London, Rebecca's cousin Jack Favell turns up and chats amiably with Mrs Danvers. He is obviously a man of disreputable character and his charm is false and patronising. He requests to Mrs de Winter that she does not tell Maxim of his visit to which she agrees reluctantly.
She then decides to investigate this notorious west wing. She goes into Rebecca's old room and is caught by Mrs Danvers who has been keeping it immaculate ever since Rebecca's death. The housekeeper gloriously relishes showing the beauty of the room and Rebecca's clothing to the new Mrs de Winter and her performance as this overtly fanatical woman unnerves our heroine. However, she stands up to her and states that she is Mrs de Winter now...

Upon Maxim's return, Mrs de Winter suggests they have a costume ball to which Maxim agrees. She wants to design her own dress, but Mrs Danvers suggests she copies one of the outfits from the portraits in the hallway - she even specifies an image of Maxim's ancestor, Caroline de Winter.
The night of the ball, Mrs de Winter descends in her beautiful gown, her face radiant with pleasure as she feels that she is finally going to make Maxim happy. Her crowning glory is dashed as his face expresses horror. It turns out Rebecca wore an exact replica at a ball the last year of her life. Our heroine is distraught and races back upstairs. She sees Mrs Danvers and challenges her, makes her admit she did it on purpose. Mrs Danvers has her dramatic showdown in Rebecca's bedroom and even tries to persuade the sobbing heroine that she ought to leave, or better still, kill herself...
Suddenly, the tension is broken by a flare outside the window. A ship has crashed and everyone dashes to assist.

Early the next morning, it is revealed that during the attempts to salvage the wreckage, Rebecca's old boat was also found at the bottom of the sea. Our heroine finds her husband alone in the cottage by the cove. He is a wreck of a man now. All his brevado has fallen away. He now admits to his wife the truth. He hated Rebecca, he hated her from very early on in the marriage when he discovered the kind of woman she was - a woman who liked to have many lovers and was proud of it. He was a man of great standing and could not face the divorce courts, so lived his life a lie to save the family honour. That night, she had told him she was pregnant and she was enjoying the irony that the bastard child would inherit Manderley when maxim was gone. He couldn't contain himself and he hit her. She laughed at him some more but stumbled and fell, hitting her head and killing her instantly.
Maxim knows that they'll find Rebecca's body in the boat and he admits that the corpse he once identified was not Rebecca, just some poor nameless woman now residing in the family crypt.

The tables have turned. Maxim is now the weak one and his wife is becoming stronger as she becomes the crutch he needs to keep going.

There is an inquest and Maxim has to identify Rebecca's body. Tabbs, the ship builder states that the boat could not have capsized and it appears there were holes drilled in the bottom of the boat. No one believes it could be evidence of suicide, especially Mrs Danvers and Favell.
The case is adjourned briefly and whilst they take lunch, Favell produces a note from Rebecca dated the day she died - it implies she has something to tell Favell and he says that this proves she didn't want to kill herself. He is willing to not hand over this evidence to Colonel Julyan (the local head of police) if Maxim is willing to pay handsomely. Maxim does not fall for such a disgraceful ploy and summons Colonel Julyan to share the information. Favell then has to take a different road. He believes Rebecca was pregnant and, thanks to Mrs Danvers' information, a Dr Baker could testify to this.

The Colonel, Jack, Maxim and Frank seek out Dr Baker but he denies having ever treating a Mrs de Winter. However, in his books on the day in question, a young beautiful woman using the name 'Danvers' had been to see him. It appears Rebecca had been using this pseudonym for years. Dr Baker tells of how the young woman thought she may have been pregnant, but he was the bearer of bad news - she actually had cancer and she had only a matter of months. She had replied; "Oh no, doctor, not that long..."
Telling words for a determined woman.

Jack Favell is horrified. He telephones Mrs Danvers with this frightful news.
When Frank and Maxim return to Manderley, it is all ablaze. Mrs Danvers has gone mad and destroyed the building in order to prevent Maxim and his new bride to live under it happily. Mrs Danvers dies in the fire.

Maxim finds his wife is alive and well and they embrace. Inside, Rebecca's possessions curl up in flame.

Great Lines
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

On her father, our heroine states: "...he had a theory that if you should find one perfect thing or place or person, you should stick to it."

Maxim's ghastly and deeply unromantic proposal is a gem:
"I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool."

The wonderfully blunt Beatrice makes quite an impression on our poor heroine with a number of pertinent comments, but two are rather important as they foreshadow things to come in a variety of ways:

On Mrs Danvers: "She simply adored Rebecca"

and: "I can see by the way you dress you don't care a hoot how you look."

This was a big hit for Hitch and it won the Academy Award for Best Picture (he did not win Best Director, sadly, and would never get that deserved award although he did receive the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his contribution to cinema).

It is interesting to note the one major discrepancy between book and film. In the book, Maxim actually killed Rebecca, but there was a serious Production Code in Hollywood at the time which implicitly stated that no one could 'get away' with murder, so they made it an accidental death. Frankly, this is a shame because it's all too convenient considering the plot twists. Rebecca wanted to die. She wanted Maxim to kill her or she might very well have killed herself. But to conveniently slip and knock her head on something is stretching the suspension of disbelief a tad too far. However, this effect from the legal of things is so minor, it does not disturb my enjoyment of the film. These little moments of coincidence are but a mere seasoning to a much more flavoursome sandwich. Agatha Christie practically lived on them!

The whole film is majestically lit, particularly in the Manderley scenes, with shadows playing a subtle role once more, be it Mrs Danvers' ominous yet iconic silhouette cast against the walls or the shadows of the rain soaked windows giving an eerie notion of the house weeping internally as it mourns its former mistress.

My favourite 'Hitchcock moment' has to be when Maxim is telling the tale of that fateful night and Hitch's camera follows the path of the 'ghost' of Rebecca as we relive her final moments. One of those incredibly simple pieces of film-making, but devastatingly effective.

There have been attempts at sequels to Daphne Du Maurier's exquisite novel. Initially there was one by Susan Hill simply entitled Mrs de Winter and then later came Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman. The former was adequate and faithful in its plot and characterisation, but felt a little spare in depth. The latter was a much meatier affair and suitably vivid with some interesting choices made. Although both are intriguing for curiosity's sake, one would not be living an emptier life without them. Daphne Du Maurier's original novel is a 20th century classic and shall remain so for ever more.

(I can't believe I had to come back and edit this post to say this next bit!)
Judith Anderson is amazing as Mrs Danvers. She was also nominated for an Oscar alongside Olivier and Fontaine, but, like them, didn't win. Great shame!!

My Verdict
One of my absolute favourites. It may have been Hitchcock's first film in Hollywood, but his years of experience made this an uncertain masterpiece. 10/10

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jamaica Inn

Title: Jamaica Inn
Year: 1939
Studio: Mayflower Pictures
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, John Harrison & J.B. Priestly
Source Material: The novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Running Time: 95 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 7th November, 8:30am
Oh, I woke up in a grump this morning, thanks to the persistence of my ever-hungry feline companion. I can't remember a time when I haven't been woken by Fizzgig. I do love her with all my heart, but she can be a demanding bitch at times. Alas.
I cannot deny that the thought of doing today's blog was not filling me with much joy as I am not overly fond of Jamaica Inn - I love the book, but the film leaves me a little cold... however more of that later.
Still, I made a brew and grabbed a mince pie (I hate Christmas seeping into months other than December, but I make an exception for yummy mince pies. I'd eat them all year around, frankly) and headed for Cornwall in the nineteenth Century...

Sir Humphrey Pengallan - Charles Laughton
His Butler, Chadwick - Horace Hodges
His Groom - Hay Petrie
His Agent - Frederick Piper
His Tenants - Herbart Lomas, Clare Greet & William Devlin
His friends - Jeanne de Casalis, Mabel Terry Lewis, Bromley Davenport, George Curzon & Basil Radford as Lord George

Joss Merlyn - Leslie Banks
Patience, his wife - Marie Ney
Mary, his niece - Maureen O'Hara
His gang:
Harry the Pedlar - Emlyn Williams
Salvation Watkins - Wylie Watson
Sea Lawyer Sydney - Morland Graham
Dandy - Edwin Greenwood
Thomas - Mervyn Johns
The Boy - Stephen Haggard
James "Jem" Trehearne - Robert Newton

"Oh Lord, we pray thee ~~
not that wrecks should happen
~~ but that if they do happen
Thou wilt guide them ~~
to the coast of Cornwall
~~ For the benefit of the
poor inhabitants."

So ran an old Cornish prayer of the early nineteenth century, but in that lawless corner of England, before the British Coastguard Service came into being, there existed gangs who, for the sake of plunder deliberately planned the wrecks, luring ships to their doom on the cruel rocks of the wild Cornish coast.

A ship is lured upon the deathtrap of rocks near a cove and Joss Merlyn and his gang of cut-throat smugglers seize the booty and murder all survivors of the shipwreck.
Meanwhile, a young Irish girl arrives by coach to Cornwall but the coachman is reluctant to stop at her destination. It appears that no one, other passengers included, want to be anywhere near the place. The coachman drops her off a few miles past and refuses to take her directly. Instead, she hikes over to the nearest building which happens to be the home of Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the local Squire and Justice of the Peace.
Sir Humphrey is enamoured with the young traveller and offers to escort Mary and her luggage to Jamaica Inn.
Upon arrival, Mary meets her Aunt Patience but mistakes her Uncle for a servant and she is rather disgusted by him. Patience never received the letter Mary had sent explaining how her mother had died and she was coming to live with them, so it all comes as a bit of a shock.
In a separate room, Joss's gang of reprobates are enjoying their bawdy post-plunder shenanigans.
Joss finds the Squire upstairs and it becomes apparent from this secret rendezvous that Sir Humphrey is in fact in cahoots with Joss and is the man in charge of the wrecking!
Later, in the rooms below, it is suggested that there may be one amongst them who is not all he seems and is perhaps stealing more than their fair share from the others. It is assumed that it must be Jem Trehearne for he has been with them the longest - they even find some extra cash upon his person which they believe to be evidence enough. They plan to hang him and do so in a private back room. Mary witnesses all this through a crack in her room which spies down to the one below - once the gang leave Jem hanging by his neck, Mary is able to cut him down and save him. She helps him escape and the two have to run and hide.
They spend the night in a cave, but in the morning, their little boat has run adrift. The gang, who have been searching for them, spy the drifting boat and discover their location - as the gang attempt to reach them, the two swim for it and eventually make it back to Sir Humphrey's home, unaware of his dark dealings with Joss.
Sir Humphrey allows Mary to go upstairs to change and Jem makes it known to Sir Humphrey that he is in fact not a smuggler, but an undercover officer of the law. Sir Humphrey says he will get his friend Captain Boyle to look into it and bring along the cavalry.
Mary has come down all changed into a new outfit and she overhears the men talking - fearing for her Aunt's life, she dashes back to Jamaica Inn to warn her.

At the Inn, Mary has difficulty persuading her Aunt to leave and soon Sir Humphrey arrives with Jem. In a brief quiet moment, Sir Humphrey advises to Joss that the two of them should perhaps go away separately for a while due to the investigations.
The gang appear and apprehend Jem and Joss pretends to take the Squire hostage and the two men are bound to chairs with ropes, albeit loosely in Sir Humphrey's case, thanks to Joss...
Joss tells the gang that they will deal with their prisoners after that evening's wreck job. They take Mary with them and leave Humphrey and Jem tied up with Patience holding a gun over them. However, Humphrey, knowing Joss's intention, is aware there will be no bullets in the gun and climbs free of his ropes and heads away, leaving Jem bound and aghast at the betrayal.

Down at the beach, the gang have removed the warning beacon light from the cliff and await the ships demise. Mary sneaks off and tries to raise the lantern once more - she becomes embroiled in a fight with one of the men an in doing so, breaks the lamp which sets her fallen cloak alight - taking this opportunity, she hoists the burning garment up onto the post and manages to alert the ship to steer away.

The gang are appalled and are ready to kill her en masse like a pack of wolves, but Joss, showing a rare side of chivalry, takes his niece away on a cart - one of his men shoots out and Joss is hit...
At the inn, Jem has persuaded Patience to let him go and he rides off to get his military chums!
At Sir Humphrey's, the squire is all packed and tells his butler, Chadwick, that he is leaving for France for a while. Chadwick thinks his master is going mad.

Back at the Inn, Patience and Mary try to nurse Joss. Patience begins talking of moving away and starting a new life where she and Joss aren't known. She also begins to explain to Mary about who is in charge of all the wrecking, but before she gets to mention a name, she is shot and dies. Joss too loses his battle for life and slumps to Mary's feet. In the doorway stands Sir Humphrey Pengallan. He kidnaps her and whisks her off with him to be his concubine overseas.

As the two of them ride off to the port, the gang turn up at the inn to discover Joss and Patience's corpses. Jem and the military arrive and arrest the men and then head to Sir Humphrey's home where they learn about the Squire's destination from Chadwick.

Down at the port, Sir Humphrey feels he he finally safe from harm with his new woman by his side. However, Jem and the other officers arrive. Sir Humphrey holds Mary hostage but to no avail - he realises his time is almost up and climbs the rigging to a high mast - in one final act of delusion of grandeur, he commits suicide, plummeting to the deck below.

Jem takes Mary away to comfort her and poor Chadwick (who has come along with Lord George out of curiosity I presume) looks bewildered and forlorn.

The End

Great Lines
In an early scene, one of Joss's gang tells of his experiences with an Irish girl in a rather suggestive manner:

I knew a girl once, came from Ireland. Talk funny, she did, like a foreigner... but it was all right...

When Sir Humphrey introduces Jem to a couple of his friends including Lord George, there's a splendid delivery from the wonderful Basil Radford as Lord George:

Sir Humphrey: "...(he is) one of a gang of smugglers from Jamaica Inn!"
Lord George: "Smugglers, he? You got any good brandies through?"

Sir Humphrey's final words before killing himself before a gathering crowd are both grandiose and pompous but wonderfully note-worthy:

"What are you waiting for? A spectacle? You shall have it! Tell your children how the great age ended - make way for Pengallan!"

Well, here we are at another milestone in Hitchcock's oeuvre. His final picture in the UK (for a while, at least) before his huge career in Hollywood.
For fear of becoming one of those book snobs, I have to put aside my love of the original novel by Daphne Du Maurier and look at the film as a sole event, otherwise I'd be up in arms and whinging throughout (admittedly, even old Daphers herself was not best pleased - understandably!)

The opening sequence of the gang plundering the ship and murdering its crew is dramatic, vicious a very well-constructed with splendid use of models for the ships.
The moment one of the gang kills the one remaining survivor off screen and nonchalantly returns, whistling and wiping the dagger on his sleeve is pure macabre Hitchcock at his best.

Call it nit-picking if you will, but when Jem provides evidence of his status as lieutenant of the law, the paper is not even sodden despite being in his pocket whilst he swam ashore - and surely the gang could easily have discovered this, especially when they searched him for his wallet prior to attempting to lynch him!!

My favourite moment has to be when the gang are caught and one poor 17 year old lad (the actor actually looks about 39, but let's shed our disbelief for a moment) manically pleads for his life and the camera pans across the cool faces of the rest of the gang one by one as we hear the boy's prattling. It's startlingly effective and makes one reflect on the severity of their punishment and whether it's fitting considering their hateful crimes - ooh, it's so open to debate!!

My Verdict
It is fast paced and gritty where it needs to be, but I cannot help being let down by Charles Laughton's boisterous hamming up of the role of Sir Humphrey. I also kept getting distracted by his insane eyebrows.