Announcing the Agatha Christie Blogathon!

Christina Wehner

AgathaChristieLittle Bits of Classics and I are thrilled and excited to announce the Agatha Christie Blogathon – The Queen of Crime!

When? 

September 16th-18th

Why?

The inspiration for this blogathon is Domi’s of Little Bits of Classics. It is in honor of Agatha Christie’s 126th birthday on the 15th of September.

Rules

All things Agatha Christie are welcome! Anything and everything – her life, her writing style, her characters, her books, the movie adaptations of her books, tributes, retrospections – the more the better! We want to honor everything about the great lady.

The only rules we have are that we are Not Allowing Duplicates on individual Books because there are so many we hope to see covered. There are quite a few movies, too, so we thought we would put a limit of TwoPosts Per Movie. However, there is no limit on how many posts can…

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The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social: ROUGHLY SPEAKING (1945)

This post is part of The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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Sometimes there is a part of me that yearns for a simpler time. I don’t want to go back to olden days completely, I’m much too big a fan of air-conditioning, vaccines, antibiotics, and Wifi to do that. But there is a part of me that wishes for a bit more of that sense of simple community life and family connectedness, the days when kids went out when the sun came up and came home when the fireflies came out, a time when you knew your neighbor and where your food came from, a time of soda jerks and ice cream parlors. So when the nostalgia hits me, I try to find a movie that can show me that simpler time which is why I ended up buying ROUGHLY SPEAKING from the Warner Archive.

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In the 1920s, Louise Randall (Rosalind Russell) learns that not only has her father died but that her family is also penniless. In an effort to help Louise attend college her mother sells her own jewelry to pay for the tuition. Louise throws herself into her work determined to “be on the inside looking out”, and soon excels in her secretarial courses. Her first temp job is at a shipyard where she wins over her misogynistic boss with her wit and skill. Soon after Louise and her friend, Alice move out to New Haven, Connecticut and rent a room in the same building as two Yale University students. These two young men are Rodney Crane (Donald Woods) and Jack Leslie and the four become quite important to each other. Jack and Alice soon fall in love and marry, and Rodney eventually proposes to Louise.
Louise agrees to marry Rodney but their wedding is anything but acceptable. At the ceremony, Louise refuses to wear white, will not take her husband’s name, and refuses to vow to obey. Problems arise after the wedding too as Louise wants to continue working while Rodney insists that she stay home. The “happy couple” move to New York City where Louise quickly gives birth to four children, Barbara, John, Rod, Jr. and Louise, Jr. World War II breaks out and Louise does her bit, complete with victory garden and selling war bonds. She also finds a large although somewhat run down house along the Hudson River and moves her growing family there.

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Life is happy despite the hard times but one day Louise Jr. falls ill. When the doctor leaves Louise must deal with the fact that every one of her children has been diagnosed with polio. Louise now throws herself into caring for her children, nursing each one back to health even Louise Jr. who is sickest and left slightly lame from her illness. Undaunted in the face of adversity, Louise keeps her spirits high even when Rodney comes home after being laid off. In fact, she simply goes out and gets a job herself in order to help support the family while her husband gets back on his feet. But Rodney doesn’t see things in such a sunny way and takes this as a slight and a lack of sympathy on his wife’s part. Eventually Rodney finds a new job and a much younger woman. He comes home one evening to tell Louise that he is leaving her and the children after ten years of marriage.

Based on the bestselling autobiography of Louise Randall Pierson, who also wrote the screenplay, ROUGHLY SPEAKING is a great offering from Michael Curtiz.  Made a time when morale was low, this film seems to speak to the spirit of the America that was and that could be again.  Showing the indomitable spirit of a woman raising her family in spite of the obstacles thrown in front of her was most likely meant to encourage the movie going public to believe in the possibility of “the good life” once again.

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Apparently, Bette Davis turned down the lead role and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that was a good thing.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Bette Davis.  But there is a quality to her that doesn’t quite fit with the picture of Louise Randall.  Bette Davis always has a classiness to her, a level of being slightly above, and while I don’t doubt that she can play down to earth women there is definitely something about her that makes me feel like it doesn’t quite ring true.  On the other hand, Rosalind Russell strikes me as the perfect actress for this role.  There is a realness and “ready for anything” quality that makes her infinitely watchable and believable as an ordinary wife and mother who made her life what she wanted it to be.  I love Rosalind Russell, she just seems willing to jump into anything be it comedy, drama, romance, action, you name it.  If Rosalind Russell is in a film chances are I’ll watch it and end up liking it, if only just for her.  Luckily, ROUGHLY SPEAKING boasts a great supporting cast and director as well as a terrific story.  It is a film that I just flat out enjoyed and had fun watching which is sometimes the best kind of film of all.

 

The Great Villain Blogathon: THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)

This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy, Karen of Shadows and Satin, and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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Off the coast of South America a passenger yacht is passing a pleasant evening.  The captain is growing concerned in the navigation room as the channel lights, marking reefs and dangerous rocks, are not corresponding with the known charts.  He goes below to ask for permission to change course which is denied by the wealthy passengers.  The men, including hunter and author Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea), want to make good time and reach their destinations as soon as possible.  This soon becomes impossible as the vessel runs aground on some rocks and all souls on board are lost.  All save one.

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Rainsford surfaces on an island, one that was thought to be uninhabited, and turning back sees the channel lights change position again.  It would appear that someone was intentionally sabotaging nearby ships.  Making his way inland, Rainsford comes across a large mansion which turns out to be the home of Russian Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks).  Zaroff is  sympathetic to Rainsford’s plight as it is apparently a common occurrence.  Currently there are four other shipwreck survivors staying with him, two sailors and a brother and sister.  Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother, and liquor enthusiast, Martin (Robert Armstrong) were rescued along with the two sailors but they haven’t seen their companions in several days.  The men disappeared after being invited to hunt with Count Zaroff, although their host assures them that they are simply busy hunting.

That evening the Count regales Rainsford with stories of his hunting prowess and growing boredom with the lack of challenging prey.  He gloats that he has solved this problem by finding something new to hunt.  He goes on to tell Rainsford that on this island he hunts, “the most dangerous game”.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is based on a short story by Richard Connell and is the only adaptation to use the original characters.  This is not to say that the film doesn’t make a few changes.  For one, the addition of Eve and her brother was a change made for the film. I read the short story when I was in high school and in the original story Rainsford travels with a friend to South America to hunt jaguars and falls overboard after hearing gunshots from the nearby island.  Swimming to the island he is made the guest of Count Zaroff and his mute servant Ivan.  These are the only three people on the island and it definitely adds to the feeling of isolation and desperation that Rainsford goes through as the story progresses.  I will say that the addition of the brother and sister, while it is useful as a plot device in helping Rainsford discover the truth of Zaroff’s dangerous new prey, for me took away from the overall sense of paranoia and doom that the original story had.  And Fay Wray is in full on damsel in distress mode which I will say made me think more than once that maybe, just maybe, Joel McCrea should leave her behind for you know…reasons.

But since this is a villain event let’s talk about Count Zaroff.  This was Leslie Banks’ first important film role and he does quite well with it.  Leslie Banks is notable for having received a facial injury during World War I.  The injury left scarring and paralysis on the left side of his face, a fact that he actually used to his advantage during his acting career.  When playing lighter and more romantic roles he would turn his right side toward the camera and when playing the villain he would turn the left.

The Count Zaroff of the film felt a bit different from the Count Zaroff of the story.  In the short story Zaroff comes across much more, oh what’s the word, insane.  I mean he is scary insane.  The sort of insane that believes itself sane.  The Count Zaroff in the film is nuts to be sure but he seems more interested in inflicting pain and fear than furthering his rhetoric.  There is also a whole storyline involving Eve and the ecstasy of “love” after the hunt, infer at will, which is not part of the original story.  This little wrinkle adds a more predictable layer to Zaroff, making him a bit more like your ordinary villain and less like an unpredictable madman.  For all the differences, Leslie Banks is quite good in this role.  He brings a fun and charisma to Zaroff during the early scenes that make him charming and intriguing, and a dangerous edge to later ones that add to his menace.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is a very short film, only sixty-three minutes, so the actual hunt only makes up about twenty minutes.  But even in that short time we get a sense of evil from Zaroff that begs the question, who is the most dangerous animal?

#BeyondtheCover Day 3 Recap

We have reached the final day of #BeyondtheCover blogathon and what a fabulous three days it has been! We have had an amazing amount of terrific entries from book bloggers, film bloggers, classic film bloggers, and booktubers alike!  If you had wanted to participate but didn’t get a chance to yet never fear!  We will be putting up a final recap tomorrow to capture any late coming entries!  Thank you so much to everyone who has taken part so far!

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Now let’s get to today’s fabulous entries!

Defiant Success: The Godfather

Now Voyaging: Mrs. Miniver

Christina Wehner: The Ox-Bow Incident

Cinema Cities: Double Indemnity

Cinematic Scribblings: The Remains of the Day

Back to Golden Days: Wuthering Heights

Moon in Gemini: When Worlds Collide

Reel Distracted: 5 Dolls for an August Moon

All the Shelves: Where the Wild Things Are

Emily Cait: The Shannara Chronicles

Classic Reel Girl: Alice Adams

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: Above Suspicion

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You: Jamaica Inn

Mildred’s Fatburgers: Kitty Foyle

A Shroud of Thoughts: The Maltese Falcon

Century Film Project: Sherlock Holmes (1916)

Dell on Movies: Shiloh

An Ode to Dust: Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Winx & Ink: Sherlock Holmes (Granada series)

Movie Classics: The End of the Affair

Crimson Kimono: The Moon in the Gutter

LA Explorer: Sense & Sensibility

 

If you missed Day 1 or Day 2 be sure to check out the recaps!

#BeyondTheCover Blogathon: MRS. MINIVER (1942)

This post is part of the #BeyondTheCover Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Me!  Be sure to check out all the fabulous entries here and here!

In a comfortable house in the British Isles lives Kay Miniver (Greer Garson), her husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon), and her three children Toby, Judy, and Vin (Richard Ney).  Kay and Clem are well off, Clem has a successful career as an architect, and are enjoying having a little extra money to splash out on some luxuries as well as being able to continue employing some in house staff.  Kay has just bought a new hat and Clem has purchased a new car.  It is the summer of 1939 and life is good.

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A few days later Vin arrives home from Oxford and the entire family turns out to meet him at the train.  Vin is a bit puffed up on account of his newly acquired college education and soon puts this new attitude to use by insulting the granddaughter, Carol (Teresa Wright), of local aristocrat Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty).  Despite this rocky start, Vin and Carol soon come to terms and fall in love.  They agree to keep in touch while Carol and her grandmother are away for the summer in Scotland.

Weeks pass and local gossip turns to Poland and the recent fall of that country to German hands.  On a quiet Sunday morning the village turns out for church and Vin is delighted to see Carol and her grandmother among the congregation, the pair having returned early from their travels.  The service begins but is quickly interrupted by the Vicar announcing that England has declared war on Germany.  Many of the older members of the congregation are visibly upset, even to tears, by this news as memories of another World War not long past are still present and troubling.

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Life changes now for the Miniver family and their town.  Vin goes into the service and joins the RAF, Clem does his part as a Local Defense Volunteer and is part of the Thames River Squad.  Even some members of the household staff join the military and the WAAF in order to “do their bit”. Vin begins his training at a base nearby and life continues on, changed but not deeply altered by the war.  Some weeks later the locals are listening to Lord Haw Haw on the radio and dismissing his dark predictions for England’s inevitable fall to Germany when word comes in that a German pilot has been downed nearby.  Clem and other members of the Thames River Squad are out searching for him but have not yet found him.

That evening Vin returns home for a dinner with the whole family, including Carol, and it ends up being a momentous occasion as he proposes to his love and she accepts.  Celebrations are cut short as Vin is recalled to his base for immediate deployment and Clem is called out to the river.  Clem and his fellow local boat owners are then informed that they are to take part in the evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkerque, France.  Five days later, Kay has no word from Vin or Clem and her only clues as to their locations come from the newspaper.  Taking a stroll in her garden she happens upon something strange…German boots.

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MRS. MINIVER is first and foremost a story of people.  Based on a book which was itself based on the column of the same name written by Jan Struther, the pen name of Joyce Anstruther, Mrs. Miniver first appeared in The Times in 1937.  She was created when Peter Fleming, brother of Ian, asked Jan Struther to write about “an ordinary sort of woman who leads an ordinary sort of life — rather like yourself”.  The pieces would appear every few weeks and became an instant hit.  Shortly after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the columns were combined into a book which was published under the title “Mrs. Miniver” and quickly became a bestseller.  Mrs. Miniver, called Carol in the books, was a women who enjoyed her children, loved her husband, ran her household, and observed the changes in the world.  In short she was a reflection of the men and women who read about her, a window into their hearts as well as the happier times of their past before the war.  She also was a beacon, a guiding light, a comforting friend in the uncertain and turbulent times when the entire world was fighting each other too few years after the Great War.

Rather than a traditional novel, Mrs. Miniver the book is a collection of vignettes in the life of a British family.  This was undoubtedly an issue when constructing the screenplay for MRS. MINIVER.  While the columns themselves had no connections other than the Miniver family, the film needed to have a cohesive storyline. As a result much of what takes place in the film is not present in the book. And while the book of Mrs. Miniver was intended to at first entertain and later boost the morale of the British public, the film had a much larger and far reaching purpose in mind.

The film began pre-production in the fall of 1940, when the United States was still out of the war.  As time went on and the country moved closer and closer to war, certain scenes were altered and re-written to more accurately reflect the growing anti-Germany and pro-Britain attitude of the public.  The scenes involving the downed German flyer were changed several times becoming progressively harsher and more confrontational.  The film was finally released in 1942, just a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  President Roosevelt ordered it rushed to the theaters for propaganda purposes because at its core that was what MRS. MINIVER was intended to be.

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Director William Wyler was born in Germany and firmly believed that the United States should join the fight against Nazism.  He feared that the country’s isolationist attitude would be damaging and so endeavored to make a film showing the American public what their British counterparts were going through at that time.  His plans worked and the film did a great deal toward raising American sympathy toward Britain.  Winston Churchill once famously said that MRS. MINIVER, first the book and then the film, had done more for the war than “six divisions of war effort.”

The final speech by the vicar in MRS. MINIVER was printed in the magazines TIME and LOOK, as well as being broadcast on Voice of America and dropped as propaganda pamphlets all over Europe at the behest of President Roosevelt.  Called “The Wilcoxon Speech” in honor of the actor Henry Wilcoxon and his stirring delivery, this speech perhaps best exemplifies what made MRS. MINIVER the film and Mrs. Miniver the book such enduring stories and inspiring human tales.

“…The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There’s scarcely a household that hasn’t been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourselves this question? Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness? Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed?

I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman and child who loves freedom. Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves, and those who come after us, from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the People’s War. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it then. Fight it with all that is in us. And may God defend the right.”

 

#BeyondtheCover Day 2 Recap

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It has been another fabulous day for the #BeyondTheCover Blogathon! Here is a roundup of the terrific entries so far!

If you don’t see your contribution here, don’t worry–we’re spreading out the links over the event’s three days, there will be more in tomorrow evening’s recap.

Journeys in Darkness and Light: Thieves Like Us/They Live By Night

Simoa Writes: The Third Man

Marvel Presents Salo: Fantastic Mr. Fox 

Old Hollywood Films: The Heiress

Thoughts All Sorts: The Crow and Jane Eyre 

Amanda Center: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Critica Retro: Three Versions of Daddy Long Legs

The Motion Pictures: Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase 

Silentology: Greed

Little Bits of Classics: The Mirror Crack’d 

Silver Scenes: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 

Century Film Project: Sherlock Holmes

 
In case you missed any of the fabulous entries from Day 1 of #BeyondtheCover be sure to check out the recap here!  A great big THANK YOU to all the wonderful contributors so far!  We can’t wait to see what tomorrow, Day 3 of #BeyondtheCover, will hold!

Personal Collection of Classics: THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951)

In the hills of Norfolk, England a storm is coming.  As the rain pours down the local community make their way to Our Lady of Rheims Convent in search of sanctuary against the rising floodwaters.  The nuns in the convent are making things ready under the watchful eye of Sister Mary Bonaventure (Claudette Colbert).  Sister Mary is not too popular with the nurses who work alongside the sisters, thanks mainly to her exacting manner and superior attitude.  But Sister Mary has demons of her own thanks to her guilt over her sister’s suicide.  Her only ally against the nurses is Dr. Edward Jeffreys (Robert Douglas), who is awaiting the arrival of his sickly wife.

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Before too long all the townspeople, and Dr. Jeffreys’ wife, are gathered safely inside and not a moment too soon as the call comes in that the roads are completely flooded.  Everyone settles in for the night but the sisters receive a surprise from the police sergeant.  Convicted murderess Valerie Carns (Ann Blythe) was on her way to her execution when the roads flooded.  Now forced to wait until the weather improves, Valerie and her guards are being sequestered at the convent much to the chagrin of the local populace.  The other nuns accept Valerie as a lost soul, someone to be treated carefully but with compassion, but Sister Mary feels compelled to try to make a connection with Valerie.

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Not surprisingly, Valerie is less than enthusiastic about Sister Mary’s attempts to make nice.  Convicted of murdering her brother, the ailing pianist Jason Carns, Valerie is all too aware of what people think of her and just wants to be left alone.  Sister Mary perseveres, much to pretty much everyone’s annoyance, and Dr. Jeffrey’s is forced to tell her the cold hard facts.  It seems that he knew Valerie and her brother as he cared for Jason before he died.  He says that he heard Valerie wish her brother was dead and the circumstantial evidence that he, and others, gave during the trial helped convict her.  Sister Mary sees the parallels between Valerie’s suffering and her own guilt over her sister and is even more determined to help.  As time passes Valerie begins to warm up to Sister Mary and tells her that the truth is she did not kill her brother but has been falsely accused.  It is now up to Sister Mary to discover what really happened to Jason Carns before the waters recede and Valerie is taken to fulfill her death sentence.

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THUNDER ON THE HILL is based on the play Bonaventure by Charlotte Hastings and is definitely a lesser known work by director Douglas Sirk.  Claudette Colbert gets to show some real dramatic range in a role that was certainly not typical for her.  In 1951 Claudette Colbert was still a great actress but the tide was turning and her type of woman, refined, classy, and elegant, was being replaced by a younger, “sexier” generation.  But in THUNDER ON THE HILL she is stripped of her usual glamour and fashion and what we are left with is simply the woman and the actress.  In spite of spending the entire film in a habit, Claudette Colbert still manages to radiate energy and elegance and makes us feel that here is a woman driven by dark secrets to strive for something greater than herself.  There is of course a religious connotation to the story, simply due to its setting, but Douglas Sirk didn’t want that to be a large part of it.  He said, “I wanted this picture to have nothing to do with religion. For me, there is one interesting theme in it: this girl (Ann Blyth) being taken to the gallows, the storm, the delay, and so on. This should have been the only thing the picture was about. There was no story in the Claudette Colbert part. But for various reasons, including the fact that the producer blew most of the budget building that fantastic convent in Hollywood, when we could have gone on location somewhere, they kept pushing it towards religion the whole time.”  While religion might have come into it, the fact that Sirk’s primary intention was to examine the relationship of these two women and a young woman facing her own mortality is part of why I enjoyed this film so much.

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This is one of those films that allows women to hold the spotlight.  The women in this story are weak, frightened, cunning, cruel, nobel, naive, funny, and intelligent.  In short, they are people and fully developed ones at that.  They are not simple caricatures of what women were “supposed to be”.  Nor are they purely evil or purely good, but rather a bit of both.  Douglas Sirk allows his female leads to be unpleasant, to be wrong, to be ugly even in an effort to examine their relationship in the face of looming death.

I recently read the fantastic book BURIAL RITES and some moments in this film made me think of that.  Particularly the beginning with the people’s reactions to having a condemned murderess in their midst was very reminiscent.  I wish that a bit more time could have been spent with Valerie learning to trust Sister Mary before she completely opened up to her.  I wanted to see Ann Blyth angry more!  But aside from this small quibble I really enjoyed THUNDER ON THE HILL.  I watched it on National Women’s Day and it seemed a fitting movie to watch on that day.  I highly recommend checking this film out if you have the chance!

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