Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Val Lewton Blogathon: The 7th Victim

"In case of emergency I'm grabbing the Val Lewton box set. The cats can fend for themselves." - Caftan Woman

Producer/writer Val Lewton ran his own B unit at RKO Studios for four years from 1942 to 1946 and left movie fans a slate of interesting and entertaining movies such as The Cat People, The Body Snatcher and I Walked With a Zombie. Lewton and his company creatively used low budgets, left-over sets, and studio-dictated titles in a testament to imagination.

The 1943 feature The Seventh Victim was an early directing assignment for editor Mark Robson (Champion, The Prize, My Foolish Heart, Isle of the Dead) and was another intriguing movie for the filmmakers who came to be known for their quirky tales. The story and script were written by DeWitt Bodeen (The Enchanted Cottage) and Charles O'Neal (Montana). The cinematographer was the master of moodiness, Nicholas Musuraca (I Remember Mama, The Locket).

Jean Brooks, Kim Hunter

Future Academy Award winner (A Streetcar Named Desire) Kim Hunter made her screen debut as Mary Gibson, thrown from the protective atmosphere of a boarding school to the unfamiliar streets of New York City in a search for her older sister who has mysteriously disappeared. Like Dorothy Gale in Oz some of the people Mary encounters are very nice and some ... are not, but she must search for her home and home is her only family, the mercurial Jacqueline.

What Mary learns of her sister is conflicting and disturbing. Jacqueline, played by the lovely Jean Brooks, has apparently sold her successful cosmetic business and disappeared. She has not only stopped writing to Mary and paying her tuition, but Jacqueline also refuses to see her husband. The husband is a lawyer, Gregory Ward played by Hugh Beaumont, who initially keeps the nature of his relationship with Jacqueline a secret from Mary. While drawn to Jacqueline's exotic individualism, Gregory and Mary are a more suitable match who fight their attraction for Jacqueline's sake.

Erford Gage, Tom Conway, Hugh Beaumont

Jacqueline was recently sighted at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village where she rented a room which is kept locked and contains only a chair placed under a hangman's noose. Mary becomes a boarder at the complex whose other residents include a consumptive woman played by Elizabeth Russell who calls herself Mimi (Cat People) and a poet who has lost his touch, nicely played with charm and pathos by Erford Gage. Sadly for fans of Gage, his life would be lost on Iwo Jima within two years.

Our poet, Jason, finds hope in the refreshing Mary and memories of a lost love. His circle of friends also includes psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd, played by Tom Conway, who had been treating Jacqueline and knows a lot more than he lets on. Of course, Conway always had that look of superior knowledge about him. Will they help or hinder the search, and for what motives?

Kim Hunter, Lou Lubin

Lou Lubin plays Irving August, a job-hungry PI who stubbornly, and to his detriment, forgoes his usual fee to assist in the search for Jacqueline when told to mind his own business. Something about Mary's little girl lost in the big world brings out his inner white knight.

The Seventh Victim is, for me, a disquieting and subtle movie about power and the lack of it. We have a need to feel in control of our lives, yet too often the control rests with others. Jacqueline has created a thriving business and that should bring her satisfaction, but she is a thrill-seeker who wants more. She wants to control her life and the end of it. At least, that is the take Gregory and Mary have gleaned.

Gregory: "I love your sister, Mary. I love her very much. It's easy to understand now, isn't it? A man would look for her anywhere Mary. There's something... exciting and unforgettable about Jacqueline. Something you never... quite get hold of. Something that keeps a man following after her." 

Mary: "Because I loved Jacqueline I thought I knew her. Today I found out such strange things, frightening things. I saw a hangman's noose that Jacqueline had hanging... waiting."

Gregory: "Well, at least I can explain about that. Your sister had a feeling about life; that it wasn't worth living unless one could end it. I helped her get that rope."

Beautician Frances Fallon, played by Isabel Jewell, in a conversation with Mary opines that most people are lost and lonely. Deep down was Jacqueline perhaps as lost as the gullible Frances? Others have banded together as Paladists or Satan worshippers and believe their rites give them power over others and over life and death. Jacqueline has fallen in amongst them and begins her ultimate power struggle.

Kim Hunter

The divergent plotlines, the search for Jacqueline, and the struggle for power are told from the outsider Mary's point of view. Murder and cover-ups result from the efforts. The Seventh Victim unfolds with scenes of shadowy nights and doorways, murky corridors leading to danger and deception. Intrusions into the privacy of minds and even the privacy of the physical space of a washroom.

Power is misused and power is stripped away. When Dr. Judd and Jason confront the Palladists openly with their base shoddiness they are disabused of their power, perhaps only momentarily, but it is a satisfying moment in the film. Is Jacqueline free from her tormentor's influence and true master of her own fate? It is not for us to know the secrets of things that go bump in the night.

This post is part of the Val Lewton blogathon hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man and Kristina of the Speakeasy blog. See more posts at either Classic Movie Man’s Lewton page or the Speakeasy Lewton page.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Mummy in the Window

Whew!  As the above picture indicates I have at long last completed the arduous task of decorating the old homestead for Hallowe'en.

My other scary tradition is to blare my big band albums while answering the door which has the effect of horrifying the should-have-stopped-trick-or-treating-already-teens who show up clamouring for candy.  

Candy conundrum:  I can't resist the itty-bitty candy bars.  They are so cute and tasty and non-caloric because of their itty-bittiness.  They have no business being in my house, but if you wait to buy the stash at the last minute you risk being the house that gives out lousy candy.  However, if the treats are in the house then they won't last until the big night.  Oh, the horror!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Favourite movies: Quartet (2012)

 Dustin Hoffman

Last month filmmakers and fans enjoyed another successful go round of the Toronto International Film Festivall (tiff).  My sister Maureen aka Twitter's @missmccrocodile is a veteran Festival attendee.  Her photographs of the annual event impart some of the excitement and her enthusiasm is contagious.  I can't help but get caught up in the fun and usually head out to one or two pictures.  This year, by design or luck, I saw a real winner in Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut Quartet.

Producer/director Hoffman introduced the film with two of his stars Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly.  Their stooges act had the matinee audience in stitches and in a welcoming frame of mind for the movie to come.  Mr. Hoffman won me over with his praise of the venue, Toronto's historic Elgin/Winter Garden Theatre.  I never enter the theatre without feeling a thrill and recommend the tour when you visit our city.

Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay

Quartet is the filmization of Ronald Harwood's 1999 play with the screenplay by the author.  The story is set in a retirement home for musicians named for Sir Thomas Beecham.  Plans are underway for the annual concert fundraiser to coincide with Verdi's birthday.  Heading the gala committee is Cedric played by Michael Gambon.  Kudos to Mr. Gambon for rocking the caftan like no one since George Zucco in Tarzan and the Mermaids.  One of Cedric's committee members is soprano Cissy played by the delightful Pauline Collins.  Cissy is a "getting worse" in that her memory is failing.  Her old stage partner Wilfred is the resident naughty man of the home played by Billy Connolly in his usual raucous and welcome manner.  Wilfred delights in flirting outrageously with all the women and needling Cedric.  The more sedate Reg played by Tom Courtenay came to the home to check on Wilf who had been admitted after a slight stroke.  Here Reg found his niche in caring for his friends and holding music classes for young people.  

Into this garden spot comes a new resident - a genuine opera star - played by Maggie Smith.  Jean is known by all, but her appearance is less than appreciated by her former husband Reg.  Her arrival shakes up his whole existence.  There is also another "star" in resident brilliantly cast with Dame Gweneth Jones.  The dagger-like looks that flash between the two divas, when the term meant more than demanding behavior, is worth the price of admission.

Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins

Jean's adjustment to the retirement home and a crisis with the annual gala are the concerns of the present.  Reg's torment over the presence of his old love makes old wounds fresh.  Life is definitely not retiring in this home because, as Cissy is fond of quoting Bette Davis' remark, "old age is not for sissies". 

Director Hoffman gives us many quiet moments to observe the entire ensemble as life swirls around the preparations for the all-important concert.  We get to know the patient piano teacher/accompanist, the old song and dance men, the lifelong choristers, the pit musicians and the staff of the home, along with our "quartet".   I laughed, I cried, I laughed again, and I cared.  Highly recommended.

Congratulations Department:

"Hollywood, Calif., Oct. 15, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The 16th Annual Hollywood Film Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Times, is pleased to announce that Dustin Hoffman will be the recipient of this year's "Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award," at this year's awards gala.
"It is a great honor to recognize Dustin Hoffman for his directorial debut for the movie 'Quartet.' His exquisite work and directorial skills are remarkable," said Carlos de Abreu , Founder and Executive Director of the Hollywood Film Awards."

Pictures of Hoffman, Connolly and Courtenay courtesy of Maureen Nolan.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for October on TCM

By gum, this is a movie for the ages! Harold Brighouse's popular play Hobson's Choice as well as being continually produced since 1915, has been presented on screen many times. It is a winning play with memorable characters. The 1954 film directed by David Lean is a gem.

Henry Horatio Hobson (Charles Laughton) is the successful manufacturer and seller of boots and shoes. He is the widowed father of three daughters, the pretty and romantically stifled Alice (Daphne Anderson) and Vicky (Prunella Scales) and the capable old maid Maggie (Brenda De Banzie).

Maggie runs the shop and the household. Willie Mossop (John Mills) creates the product the customer's flock to buy. Well, you may ask, what is it that Henry Horatio Hobson does? He drinks. He drinks to excess. And he bellows. He bellows and throws his weight around and considers himself to be quite the grand fellow. The lord and master of all he surveys.

Daphne Anderson, Brenda De Banzie, Prunella Scales

Daughter Maggie has plans. She has plans for a life for herself and will drag her sisters into the light. Her plans do not coincide with the easy life her father has made for himself. Her plans include the painfully shy Willie Mossop. Why, oh why, is it that men since the days of the cave dwellers have failed to give a strong-minded woman her due? 

Maggie Hobson is smart and a hard worker. She is ambitious and wants a home and a business of her own. Willie Mossop figures in both of her dreams. The awkward Willie Mossop, as well as the bombastic Henry Horatio Hobson are about to have their lives turned upside down.

Charles Laughton, as always, delights with this screen characterization. His "cock of the walk" attitude while among his pals at the pub doesn't fool anybody. His annoyance with young women who don't jump to his command is real. His foolish drunk, chasing moonbeams through puddles is a treat in silent communication. His poor soul routine when confronted with failure almost gets our pity.

Brenda De Banzie makes Maggie a heroine worth rooting for. Her necessary forcefulness guards her affectionate longings, as she has to bulldoze her way through a society which mocks not only her striving but her very thought of going after what she wants. We see her heart and we see her mind as Maggie grabs a hold of life and starts to shake it up.

Charles Laughton, Brenda De Banzie, John Mills

John Mills is an absolute treasure as Willie Mossop. We mustn't be fooled into thinking a man of few words, and most of those supplied by Maggie Hobson doesn't have a mind of his own. What happens to a shy and awkward man when success is thrust upon him?

Hobson's Choice is a comedy with heart because the characters are true and their portrayers are truthful. It is a memorable movie that will make you laugh and cheer.

In 1955, the BAFTA for Best British Film was awarded to Hobson's Choice. Brenda De Banzie, John Mills and the screenplay by David Lean, Norman Spencer and Wynyard Browne was also nominated.

TCM is screening Hobson's Choice on Sunday, October 28 at 10:00 am.


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...