Saturday, March 26, 2011

Under Capricorn

Title: Under Capricorn
Year: 1949
Studio: Transatlantic Pictures/Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Adapted by Hume Cronyn, Screenplay by James Bridie
Source Material: A novel by Helen Simpson
Running Time: 117 minutes

Saturday 26th March, 9:00am
I was hindered last weekend by technological issues. I had planned to watch this antipodean drama but my computer was infected with some evil Trojan virus thing. Thankfully, my genius friend Adam was able to give up his weekend in order to fix things like only he can. So, it meant I had to postpone the screening and write-up, but so be it. I'm not giving myself a strict schedule here. I'll get through it all in my own time.
Golly, it has been colder than one would have imagined for what should be the latter end of an Australian summer. I had to put an extra quilt on my bed last night. Madness! As I have now begun using the online delivery service for my shopping, I had no need to get up first thing and head to the shops as I used to do. No siree! No, I had breakfast in bed instead. In fact, as I type this, I am still in my jim-jams. Hoorah for weekend laziness.
With a lackadaisical notion in mind, I am going to force myself to be as brief as possible with the synopsis this week. (Particularly considering it's not the most exciting plot...)

Lady Henrietta Flusky - Ingrid Bergman
Samson Flusky - Joseph Cotton
Charles Adare - Michael Wilding
Milly - Maragaret Leighton
Governor - Cecil Parker
Mr Corrigan - Denis O'Dea
Winter - Jack Watling
Coachman - Harcourt Williams
Mr Potter - John Ruddock
Mr Banks - Bill Shine
Reverend Smiles - Victor Lucas
Mr Riggs - Ronald Adam
Major Wilkins - Francie de Wolff
Dr Macallister - G H Mulcaster
Sal - Olive Sloane
Flo - Maureen Delaney
Susan - Julia Lang
Martha - Betty McDermott

Sydney, New South Wales, 1931
A new Governer arrives and brings his Irish cousin, Charles Adare along with him.
Charles makes the acquaintance of Sam Flusky at the bank and the rich ex-convict helps Charles out with some money. He invites him to his home for dinner, much to the chagrin of the Governor who warns him against it.

At the dinner party, Charles is curious and slightly amused at the fact that, although invited, none of the wives of the male guests have turned up, either feigning illness or with reports of being 'detained at the last minute'.
Sam wants his wife to meet and socialise with local woman, but his reputation proceeds him and steers them clear. His home is called Minyago Yugilla which translates to "Why Weepest Thou?", which must be a slight deterrent too, surely.

During the meal, Henrietta descends from her room, she's a tad tipsy and acts a little barmy (and appears to be literally blind, which confused me for a bit) but she is so pleased to see Charles Adare whom she knew when she was much younger.
Later she calls for him to shoot an imagined creature in her bedroom and he merely humours her by shooting into the fireplace to remove the 'rat'.

Sam tells Charles about his story. How he killed Henrietta's brother and escaped the gallows as it was deemed to be culpable homicide. He was sent to Australia and his wife followed him after selling everything back in Ireland.

Charles goes to see Henrietta in her room and is found by the housemaid, Milly, who likes to imply that something dirty was going on.
Milly is disgusted by the goings on in the house and says she is leaving for good. Henrietta has to become more forceful within the house, egged on by Charles who thinks it is best for her to stand on her own two feet.

Charles pretends that Henrietta and Sam have been invited along with him to the Governor's ball, even though he himself is persona non grata with his cousin since disobeying orders.
Sam declines, but Henrietta attends. She dresses up beautifully and Sam is all ready to supply her with a beautiful ruby necklace, but he does not get the opportunity to present them as Charles and Henrietta mock the notion of red with her dress.

When Charles and Henrietta have left, Milly turns up to collect the rest of her things. However, she is there to stir and implies that there must be something untoward going on between Charles and Henrietta. Sam takes the bait and heads off to the ball.

At the ball, the Governor is swayed by Henrietta's beauty but when Sam blasts in, the night for her is ruined. She returns home with Charles and confesses that it was she who shot her brother and Sam just took the fall.
Sam returns and throws Charles out. Adare takes Sam's favourite mare and cripples it after not seeing a closed gate. Returning to the house with the bad news, Sam has to shoot his own horse and then in a temper attempts to attack Charles. The gun goes off and Charles is wounded.

With Sam's apparent 'second' offence, it is likely he will be hanged. Henrietta confesses her crime to the Governor to protect him, but Sam would need to confirm it and they wait for Charles to either die from his wound or recover and hope he says the shooting was an accident.

Back at the house, Milly has stayed on and she tries to drive her mistress further into insanity by leaving a grotesque shrunken head on her bed and then tries to poison her with an overdose of a sleeping draught. Henrietta calls for help and Sam comes to the rescue.
Milly was doing everything for her loyalty to Sam, but he sees her for what she is.

Charles recovers and as the true gent he is, says the shooting was an accident. Sam is cleared of his previous conviction and with new honesty between Sam and Henrietta they have a new life to lead. Charles gallantly returns to Ireland.

The End

Great Lines
The Governor is dictating a letter:

"...tell him the approach to the docks is the filthiest sight I've ever seen. Tell him I don't like old barrels and cartwheels and cabbage leaves and dead cats..."

At the dinner party, Charles is enjoying some chit-chat with the other guests:

Mr Riggs: "And how do you like Sydney Mr Adare?"

Adare: "Oh, I like it very much. I admire in particular the bandicoot, the rock wallaby and the duck-billed platypus. Don't take this preference as implying my derogation of the spiny anteater, the cockatoo or even the frilled lizard. There's always the kangaroo, Mr Riggs, always the kangaroo."

Mr Riggs: "I didn't mean that exactly; I meant the society."

Adare: "Is there any!?"

Jack Watling is the father of Deborah Watling who played Victoria in Doctor Who back in the 1960s. Just thought I'd mention it...

I have always regarded Ingrid Bergman as one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen. She was also a highly accomplished actress. However, I think it is fair to say that accents were not her forte. She's not exactly Meryl Streep.

It's interesting to note that Alfred was very particular about historical accuracies so if anyone mentions the lack of heavy Australian accents, it would be worth pointing out that those particular tones did not evolve for another hundred years or so.

Joseph Cotton does a reasonable job of the stoic and domineering Sam, but extra credit goes to Michael Wilding who is the most interesting person on screen (and he's handsome too!)
Praise is also due to Margaret Leighton whose portrayal of the conniving and slightly evil Milly is wonderful.

Henrietta basically gets away with murder, unless I missed a major plot point. Admittedly, I was becoming a bit bored by the end, so I may have missed an integral part of the dialogue in which everyone says; "Oh, never mind, your brother deserved it anyway. La de da!"
Please feel free to let me know...

My Verdict
This is not one of Hitch's most thrilling movies and I feel at just under two hours, it's a tad too long. I certainly wouldn't recommend it to a first time viewer of Hitchcock's oeuvre. 4/10

Monday, March 14, 2011


Title: Rope
Year: 1948
Studio: Warner Brothers/Transatlantic Pictures
Screenplay: Adapted by Hume Cronyn, screenplay by Arthur Laurents
Source Material: From the play Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton.
Running Time: 77 minutes

Monday 14th March, 2:00pm
I'm back! Yes, it has been a while, but I did warn you I'd be taking a bit of a hiatus. Firstly it was only supposed to be for about a month while I was on holiday in the UK, but then when I returned to Australia I came down with sinusitis which crippled me for a bit. So, my return was delayed by a couple of weeks. Never fear, for I am back.
Even though I have enjoyed my break from this blog, I am glad to be back into the rhythm of it all. One thing I have come to learn is that writing out detailed synopsis is both tiresome and redundant. So I will make those entries much briefer - for your sake and for my sanity.
So, back to the project... A lovely one to ease me back in.

Rupert Cadell - James Stewart
Brandon Shaw - John Dall
Phillip Morgan - Farley Granger
Mr Kentley - Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Mrs Atwater - Constance Collier
Kenneth Lawrence - Douglas Dick
Mrs Wilson - Edith Evanson
David Kentley - Dick Hogan
Janet Walker - Joan Chandler

The movie begins with a murder in a New York apartment. David Kentley is being strangled with some rope by his two fellow students, Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan. The two young men lower David's corpse into a chest and try to recover themselves.
Brandon is exhilarated and rather pleased with himself. Phillip is winded with realisation of his crime.
The two have organised a party to be attended by David's friends and family, purely to entertain the ego of Brandon. To put the icing on the cake, Brandon also decides to use David's coffin as the buffet table for the evening's food.

First, Mrs Wilson, the boys' housekeeper, returns from the shops having had the entire afternoon to do all the shores. Then each guest arrives.
Kenneth Lawrence, a fellow student, arrives first. Phillip and Brandon explain that this soiree is merely a sort of farewell as Phillip is heading off to Connecticut to spend time rehearsing his piano skills at Brandon's mother's place as he has a concert at the town hall in a few weeks.
Janet Walker, David's girlfriend, is the next to arrive. She once dated Kenneth, but (as we discover later) he dumped her and she fell into the arms of David, making the social situation a little awkward.
David's father, Mr Kentley, arrives without his wife as she has come down with a nasty cold. Mrs Atwater, his sister-in-law, has come in her place.
She calls out "DAVID!" when she sees Kenneth, mistaking him for her nephew and Phillip nervously breaks his champagne glass and cuts his hand (shame about the continuity which fails to follow this up - especially when we see his hands unscathed later on!)
Rupert Cadell turns up last, the boys' former tutor and the one to whom Brandon feels a particular bond as it was Rupert's thoughts on Friedrich Nietzsche and the √úbermensch which led him to this afternoon's crime.

Throughout the evening, there is debate about inferiority and murder, much to the distaste of David's father who is uncomfortable with the macabre humour.
There are also a number of moments where Phillip's paranoia gives tell-tale signs to Cadell that something is not all that it should be. Phillip squirms when Brandon uses the murder weapon to tie up some books for Mr Kentley. he panics while Mrs Wilson talks about the use of the chest for the buffet. Slowly, Rupert is becoming suspicious of the boys. His suspicion is exacerbated by Brendan's cockiness and unsubtle hints about his recent personal victory. It is clear that Brandon is keen to show off to his old tutor about what he has succeeded in doing.

The guests grow a little concerned about David's absence and when Mrs Kently telephones to express her distress, the party breaks up. On the way out, Mrs Wilson accidentally gives Cadell the wrong hat from the closet and he notices David's initials inside.
They all leave and Brandon is gloating. However, Rupert Cadell fabricates a story about leaving his cigarette case behind so that he can re-enter the apartment and piece a few things together. Phillip is beside himself with fear and betrays their facade but Brendan doesn't seem to care as he even helps Rupert put the pieces together.
When Rupert discovers the corpse, he is horrified and appalled. Even more so when Brendan implies it was all inspired by things Rupert had once taught them.
Stunned and gutted, he lectures about the ethics involved the total disregard for human life Brendan and Phillip have shown. He wrestles a gun off Phillip and fires it out of the window, alerting pedestrians below to the scene. Sirens wail and help is on its way. Rupert, in his abhorrence for the other two states that they will pay for their malicious crime with their lives.

Brandon nonchalantly pours himself a whiskey.
Rupert staggers to a seat by the chest and sits down.
Phillip begins playing the piano for one last time.

(That was still a fairly long synopsis... oh well.)

Great Lines
Brandon and Phillip quote their old tutor:

"Murder is a crime for most men but a privilege for the few."

Janet's response to the fact Rupert publishes books on philosophy, mainly:

"Small print, big words, no sales."

Mrs Atwater tries to read Phillip's fortune by reading his palms:

"These hands will bring you great fame!"

And Rupert's explosion of anger:

"You're going to die! Both of you!"

Rope is based on an British play which was, in turn, based on a true life murder case. In Chicago, 1924, two young men named Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murdered Robert Franks purely for the thrill of it. It made the headlines around the globe for the sheer macabre nature of the crime.
So the story went from Chicago, to England and then to New York where the movie is ultimately set.

It's also worth noting that, although not explicitly stated, this film is about two gay men who try their hand at murder. It was always the intention of the screen writer and the director that it was about homosexuality, but due to the conservative nature of the Hollywood studios, it was never allowed to be made too obvious.
Well, they may have fooled the censors, but they certainly didn't fool a lot of the audience!
Originally, Montgomery Clift was supposed to play Brandon, but as he was struggling with his own sexuality at the time, he felt it would be too complicated for him to take on this role.

Hitchcock's first "Technicolor" picture. Apart from that splash of red in Spellbound, this was Hitchcock's first dabble with colour on screen. He was so fastidious about it, they had to re-shoot a couple of reels as he wasn't happy with the finished tones.

Rope is also famous for the long takes and the panning camera around the rooms, trying to make it appear as if it is one long take. Some of the cuts are a little clumsy, whereas some work nicely. There are a couple of natural cuts which, due to the pace of the movie, one may not even notice.

Arthur Laurents, the screenwriter, has gone on record to say that he didn't approve of Hitchcock putting in the opening shot of David's murder as it took away some of the tension from the rest of the movie. I have to say, I am inclined to agree.

There has, over the years, been a lot of criticism over Farley Granger's performance in this film. However, I think he does a fantastic job and I love him even more in Strangers on a Train - very handsome too.
Both Farley Granger and John Dall suit their roles perfectly. I love the way John inhabits the role of Brandon so efficiently. His stutter is perfect without being too dramatic and that lovely touch of him raising a toast to his own success early in the picture - his stance and tone of confidence betrayed by the tremors in his hand as he holds his champagne. It's touches like that which make me want to be an actor myself.

Oh, and I love the moment Mrs Atwater is trying to recall the name of the film with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. A nod to Notorious, surely?

My Verdict
As an unashamed fan of theatrical performances, I love the stagey atmosphere of this movie. Although the long takes were essentially a technical gimmick, I appreciate the challenge Hitch gave himself. The themes and social politics the film provokes are delicious in their dark way and I enjoy the performances from all. 8/10