Today is my birthday! It is also Susan Hayward’s, Glenda Farrell’s, and Marya’s from Cinema Fanatic…as well as the day that RED HEADED WOMAN was released. But yes, it is my birthday!
Imagine my excitement when I realized that TCM was showing my favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, at 1PM on my birthday! Imagine my dismay when I realized by addled brain had misread the guide and it was actually playing at 1AM on my birthday. Never fear, Mom to the rescue!
To celebrate my Mom came over to my house with sandwiches and all kinds of junk food and treats that we never eat and we watched THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. At first it was just the two of us and later it was the two of us and my son, who was resisting his nap and ending up sleeping next to us after watching some Cary Grant. We spent the time chatting, discussing trivia, and deciding who would be a modern day cast if they ever remade the film today. We decided on Leonardo DiCaprio for CK Dexter Haven, Lee Pace for Mike Conner, Jennifer Lawrence for Liz Imbry, Bradley Cooper for George Kittridge, and either Jessica Chastain or Amy Adams for Tracy Lord. And Bill Murray for Uncle Willy. But we both agreed that you really shouldn’t mess with perfection that is Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn.
My Mom doing her best Greta Garbo…
My feet (My feet are made of clay, made of clay did you know?)
All in all a delightful afternoon and way to spend my birthday! Thanks Mom!
The world shattered in 1914. The conflict that would become known as World War I would destroy not only a generation of men, but it would forever change how we view the world. No longer would there be a feeling that something like that could never happen, that a global war was some kind of fiction and the horrors suffered by the men who fought were mere figments of our imagination. Less known and talked about today than World War II, the First World War is a huge topic that deserves much more time and introspection than I can offer it here. But for this blogathon I wanted to take a small look at a collection of films offered by Flicker Alley, that show us a glimpse of what movie goers experienced during World War I and what affect they had on them.
Let’s start with some history. World War I officially lasted from July 28, 1914 until November 11, 1918, killing nine million military combatants and seven million civilians. The Allied forces, consisting of Great Britain, France, and Russia, were engaged against the Central Powers of Austro-Hungary and Germany. Italy, though initially allied with Germany and Austro-Hungary, did not officially join the Central Powers and eventually joined the side of the Allies along with Japan and the United States. The triggering event of World War I was the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslavian nationalist on June 28, 1914 which began a diplomatic crisis between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
On July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war and invaded Serbia. Germany in turn invaded Belgium and Luxembourg before moving toward France, leading to Great Britain to declare war on Germany. The so-called Western Front, a long line of trenches stretching from the North Sea all the way to the Swiss border with France, was created with the halting of the German advance on France and remained mostly unchanged for the remainder of the war. The Eastern Front saw more action as Russia stopped the advance of the Austro-Hungarian army but were defeated in their attempted invasion of East Prussia by the Germans. The Russian government collapsed in 1917 and were brought to terms with the Central Powers. This was Germany’s greatest triumph until 1918 when after a stunning Spring Offensive by Germany, the Allied forces rallied back and forced the German army to retreat in a series of successful offensives. On November 4, 1918 Austria-Hungary agreed to armistice followed a week later by Germany, thus ending the war in an Allied victory. This is an extremely brief overview of World War I and does not begin to describe the death and destruction that came about as a result. For an example, imagine the population of New York City (approximately nine million people) disappeared one day. That is the amount of soldiers, flyers, and sailors who died in World War I. Now imagine the country of Hong Kong, approximately seven million people, also disappeared from the face of the earth. That is the amount of civilians who died in World War I.
Two other pieces of information that I want you to keep in mind. The first is the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915. A British ocean liner, and once the world’s largest passenger ship, she was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine while making her 202nd trans-Atlantic crossing. The Germans broke Cruiser Rules by firing on a non-military ship without warning, though they cited reasons for treating the Lusitania as a naval ship such as the fact that she was carrying war munitions and that the British had also been breaking international Cruiser Rules. Germany had declared the seas around Great Britain a war zone and had even gone so far as to place an advertisement in a newspaper warning Americans not to travel aboard the great ship. On the afternoon of May 7, 1915 the Lusitania was hit by a torpedo 11 miles off the coast of Ireland. A second explosion from the inside of the ship hastened her demise and the Lusitania sank in eighteen minutes, taking with her 1,198 crew and passengers of which 128 were American. This incident added to British propaganda and also began to sway America public opinion which helped influence the decision for American to enter the war in 1917.
The second thing to keep in mind is that movies were still very new and had not yet made the impact that they would in the next twenty or thirty years. There were also no personal televisions and radios were not as common as they would become in the 1940s and 1950s. Most people got their news from papers, letters, and word of mouth. Movie theaters were beginning to gain popularity but films were not yet the three hour epics that we are used to. When audiences went to the movies they were sometimes treated to newsreels which would become their first glimpse into the action transpiring on the battlefields.
This brings me to a terrific film collection from Flicker Alley. When trying to write this post I wanted to see some of the films that audiences during World War I would have actually seen. As we noted before, the movie making industry was still very new during the First World War. In fact the films we are most familiar with that deal with World War I, i.e. GRAND ILLUSION and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, were made at least a decade or more after the end of the war. Luckily for me, Fritzi of Movies Silently pointed me in the direction of WORLD WAR I FILMS OF THE SILENT ERA and it was exactly what I was hoping for and more. The collection presents four very different films, each presenting unique aspects of the film industry during WWI.
The first film is FIGHTING THE WAR (1916) which is the work of American adventurer Donald C. Thompson. This film was taken during the Battle of Verdun in France, during which the French army suffered great losses in their defense of the town and its surrounding forts. Thompson shows not only the great war machines and technology of the day, but also trench life, troop movements, and actual battles having set up only a few hundred feet behind the action. He was also able to film a dogfight in the air between German and British aircraft. It is worth noting that because of the emphasis on American neutrality, Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War”, most American filmmakers were not allowed on the battlefront. This did not prevent American filmmakers from making newsreel footage but it did mean that it was created rather than filmed, many European battles taking place in California and New Jersey.
THE LOG OF THE U-35 (1917) is the result of a German submarine captain’s penchant for filmmaking. The captain, Lothar von Arnold de la Perière used his own movie camera during a “cruise” in the Mediterranean while in a period of unrestricted submarine warfare. This offering is a combination of the 1919 British and the 1920 American versions of the German film THE ENCHANTED CIRCLE from 1917. We are able to see first hand the sinking of many Allied vessels, including trading convoys, as well as the surrender/negotiations of their crews. There is some truly stunning footage of ships sinking, some going slowly and quietly while others quickly go under in an explosion of smoke and flame. Interspersed between these moments are shots of the crew cleaning the guns and the submarine, and the captain crossing names off his list of ships on the register. Imagine what audiences seeing this footage must have felt, remembering the fates of the poor souls aboard the Lusitania.
Now we are going to move to America and the Committee on Public Information (CPI). After the United States decided to enter WWI, Woodrow Wilson established the CPI on April 13,1917. Prior to the United States entering the war the focus of the movie industry in America was making films and shorts that highlighted the importance of neutrality and isolationism. Films like CIVILIZATION and INTOLERANCE showed the glory that came along with the path of pacifism and neutrality. After 1917 the focus now shifted to mocking the pacifists in society, shaming the young men who refused to do their duty by joining the service. Silent stars of the day threw their considerable influence behind the selling of war bonds including such powerhouses as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, as well as others such as Frances Marion. The CPI was created to influence American opinion about entering WWI, initially using material that was based in fact but that was spun to present a more upbeat vision of America at war. American films now began showing the glory of the American soldier and the idiocy of the foolish German, or the outright evilness of the terrible “Hun” who would go about taking milk from babies when they weren’t throwing them out of windows or raping their mothers. Another focus of films became that of the spy game, usually a German spy hidden within our midst. In 1917 director William C. deMille and producer Jesse Lasky released THE SECRET GAME, starring the smoldering Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa as a detective working alongside American soldiers to find a German spy hidden in the quartermaster’s office. The Germans are attempting to gain information about an American transport convoy in the Pacific and it is up to Detective Nara Nara (Hayakawa) to find out where the leak is coming from before it is too late. THE SECRET GAME is an interesting film not only for its WWI propaganda but also for its distinct lack of Asian stereotypes when presenting a Japanese character. While perhaps a somewhat simplified view of Japanese culture in parts it is a mostly respectable and fully realized characterization of one of our Japanese allies during WWI. The CPI termed it a “timely release”, which must have made deMille and Lasky happy as this allowed their film to be licensed for export and foreign revenue. In just eighteen months of life the CPI was able to use every available form of media to not only gain public support to fight against foreign attempts to undercut the war effort but to also boost morale of the American public and support of the American soldier.
The final offering of the collection is a 1975 documentary entitled THE MOVING PICTURE BOYS IN THE GREAT WAR. This documentary is narrated by Lowell Thomas and shows a compilation of films, including ones present on the DVD. This documentary gives a great picture of the influence of WWI on American filmmakers and the impact that the war had on the beginning of Hollywood, as well as the influence that Hollywood had on audiences. It is definitely deserving of a look and I would highly recommend watching it in the order that it is presented here. By that I mean watch all the films first before watching the documentary. Go into the experience as the audiences during WWI did, not knowing what to expect from what is about to be presented. Then watch the documentary and allow it to help place a historical context around what you have just seen.
WWI is a huge topic and one that changed the world forever. It was the first war to be fought in front of a motion picture camera and it was the first time that people in Britain, France, and America were able to see what was really happening on the battlefields so many miles away. Even the soldiers were unsure how to behave, as when you watch these films you will see that every single one of them has a moment where they look up into the camera with perhaps a smile or just a look of uncertainty.
Today we are so used to news at our finger tips, video games, TV shows, and movies depicting the horrors of battle and the terrible consequences that come as a result. These images are not so shocking to us but imagine what they must have been like for people who were not only just getting used to seeing moving pictures but who now had to try to understand why the whole world went mad from 1914-1918.
When you hear someone called “the most important female director the American film industry has known”, “… American cinema’s first genuine auteur, a filmmaker involved in all aspects of production and one who utilized the motion picture to put across her own ideas and philosophies…”, and “one of the most important and prolific film directors in the era of silent films”, you would probably think that this is someone you should know something about. So if I told you that the name of the person being talked about in the quotes about is Lois Weber would you know who I was talking about?
Born Florence Lois Weber on June 13, 1879 to Mary Snaman and George Weber of Allegheny, Pennsylvania she was considered a wonderful pianist and a bit of a child prodigy. Music was her passion growing up, the middle child of three in a devout Christian family. As a teenager Lois left home and lived on the streets in poverty while working as a street corner evangelist and social activist for two years until her evangelical group disbanded in 1900. She moved back in with her family and continued her musical education. In 1903 she began touring the country as a soprano and a pianist. During one concert recital one of her piano keys broke causing her to give up her musical career and retire from the concert stage.
Lois became frustrated by her lackluster conversions as a missionary and taking some advice from an uncle, traveled to New York City in 1904 in order to pursue acting. As she explains it, “As I was convinced the theatrical profession needed a missionary, he suggested that the best way to reach them was to become one of them so I went on the stage filled with a great desire to convert my fellowman”. For the next five years, Lois worked as a stock actress and repertory, and in 1904 she joined the road company “Why Girls Leave Home” and became a musical comedy prima donna and melodrama heroine. She also met her future husband, Wendell Phillips Smalley, among the members of the troupe and the two were married shortly before her 25th birthday one April 29, 1904. After her marriage Lois left her theater career in 1906 and became a homemaker while working freelance to write movie scenarios.
In 1908 Lois was hired as a singer for chronophone recordings by American Gaumont Chronophones. After the conclusion of the 1908 theater season she was joined by her husband at the Gaumont studio in Flushing, New York. It was at the Gaunt studio that Lois Weber met Alice Guy, who is credited not only as the first female director but also Lois Weber’s mentor. Alice Guy showed Lois the behind the camera aspects of moviemaking, leading Lois to expand her skills into the realms of producing, directing, and writing. She was soon writing scripts and then began directing English language phonoscènes. Husband and wife decided in 1910 to attempt to make a living in the new motion picture industry. Over the next five years they worked as The Smalleys, although Lois generally was given sole writing credit, for numerous companies such as Gaumont, Reliance Studio, Bosworth, the New York Motion Picture Co., and the Rex Motion Picture Co.
In 1911 Lois directed and acted in THE HEROINE OF ’76, her first silent feature film, though she shared directing duties with Edwin S. Porter and her husband. At the time of the 1912 merger by Rex with Universal, Lois and her husband were known as “prima facie heads of Rex”. In fact they ran Rex Motion Picture Co. as a subsidiary of Universal and turned out a two-reel film every week, until they left the company in September of 1912. Founder of Universal, Carl Laemmie, was a great advocate for the use of women directors and producers including Lois Weber. Universal City was created in 1913 and shortly thereafter Lois Weber was elected its mayor, causing the Universal publicity department to claim it was the only municipality in the world to be run by women officials. While at Universal, Lois would have a hand in all aspects of filmmaking. She not only wrote, directed, and acted in her films but gathered props, edited film, and designed sets as well.
Lois would star in the first English version of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY in 1913, which was produced for the New York Picture Co. and directed by her husband. The two would then collaborate on making a ten minute thriller entitled SUSPENSE, based on Au Telephone by André de Lorde. As Lois adapted the play, the film tells the story of a woman (played by Lois Weber) who is being terrorized by a burglar and required several mirror shots and multiple images to tell the story. It is thanks to this film that Lois Weber is credited with championing the use of the split screen effect in order to show simultaneous action, though this technique had been used in several Danish films prior to 1913. Lois and her husband followed up SUSPENSE with the film THE JEW’S CHRISTMAS. This movie, which dramatizes the conflict between traditional Jewish values and modern American customs, is noted for being the first portrayal of a Jewish rabbi in an American film. It also showed interfaith marriage, cultural assimilation, and the disconnect between the first generation and their children. Considered controversial at its release because of its approval of interfaith marriage, THE JEW’S CHRISTMAS strove to fight anti-semitism and racial discrimination.
Lois and her husband would soon relocate to Los Angeles which would have a huge impact on their careers. 1914 was coming and with it was a film called THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. This film would become important because it would be the very first feature length film to be directed by woman. Any guesses who that would be?
Some great articles about the life of Lois Weber can be found here, here, and here.
This post is part of the 2015 Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge hosted by Raquel of Out Of The Past. Find out more about this event here and stayed tuned all summer for more reviews!
I need you to stop what you are doing right now and go out and buy a copy of WILD BILL WELLMAN. Seriously, I’ll wait.
Written by William Wellman Jr., WILD BILL WELLMAN tells the life story of great American film director William Wellman. While many classic film fans are most likely familiar with some aspects of Wellman’s life, his films, and his temper, this book opens up a whole new world of fascinating stories and facts. Beginning with Wellman’s childhood and his time in the French flying squad during WWI, moving ahead and covering his career in Hollywood and his eventual departure from the movie making business, this is a definite must own for any classic film fan.
I loved every moment of this amazing man’s life and at the end felt that I knew him not only as a director, but as a person. Wellman lived a life that was worthy of his movies, and one that he attempted to make into a film before the studio heads had their way, and his son has brought that life to us in a compulsively readable biography. Lest you fear that Wellman will paint his father in a flattering light or a less than accurate one, all of “Wild Bill’s” failings, struggles, and outbursts are recounted. Wellman is aware of what kind of man his father was and he does not hide the less than glorious parts from us, but at the same time we can feel the pride and love with which he recounts the successes and happy moments of his father’s life.
The book is filled with black and white pictures, scattered throughout the chapters, showing candid moments in the Wellman home and on the sets of his many films which only add to the stories recounted in its pages. Speaking of films, Wellman made a total of eight-two during his career and they are all at least mentioned in this book. To those who are sensitive to spoilers (which I am not) to these classic films, some of the movies are written about in more detail than others and often the entire story and plot will de revealed when describing Wellman’s filming process. If anything I found these sections only heightened my desire to see the films that were being described, having now gained a deeper insight into their creation.
William Wellman Jr. has written a truly wonderful book and one that is a fitting an honorable tribute to his father. William Wellman was a remarkable man, director, husband, and father, and I feel that in reading this book I was able to have him walk beside me for a short time. I highly recommend this book to not only classic film fans but to anyone who enjoys a good story about an amazing person.
Will McKinley recently wrote a truly wonderful post over at his blog. In it he described the heartache that classic film fans suffer as our idols grow old and pass on, and how this is the price we have to pay for loving these films and their stars as much as we do. I think that while we suffer for our love we also receive the opportunity to do and be more because of it.
Inside every classic film fan is an old soul yearning to find its counterpoint in the world. Sometimes we get lucky and find new friends on Twitter, Facebook, or (most rare of all) in the real world. But for the most part classic film fans are a less than popular option when it comes to finding a hobby. And that is where I think something important happens. It happens when we realize and accept that being a classic film fan isn’t just a hobby for the weekends but rather it is a way of life. Classic films, their actors and directors, the music, the books, the fashion, everything from that time seeps into our hearts and souls and finds purchase there, changing us forever. It is because of this that we are so deeply affected by the passing of yet another classic film star, but it is also because of this that we have the chance to do something greater…a chance to save history.
Let’s be honest, in today’s society things that are old are not considered worthwhile or given much respect. This goes for clothes, books, movies, music, and even people. Before my son was born I worked as a nurse in an intensive care unit, and I saw first hand how the elderly are treated, more often than not, like children or idiots or burdens rather than what they are which is young people who got old. I saw how doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, even their own family members left the room as quickly as possible instead of sitting and trying to talk with them. I saw the empty rooms with no visitors for days and weeks on end. I saw the people forgotten in beds, with no one to help them move to the chair next to the window. Now I wasn’t perfect, I had days where I was busy or tired and didn’t do the best job I could have. But for the most part I tried to give these patients a little extra time and comfort. I tried to talk with them, to hear a story or two, to return to them a little of the respect and dignity that had been lost to them, and at the very least I tried to see if they liked TCM. And in return I was given smiles, pats, the occasional attempt at a cash tip, a few flirts, and stories about lives and times that were long past. I heard from a man who was supposed to be in the first wave of the planned invasion of Japan during WWII and who later travelled to New York and saw the perfect game in baseball. A woman who used to hide the dinner rolls in her purse told me about how she and her husband travelled doing USO tours during the war. I heard stories about children, grandchildren, sisters and brothers, and these are stories I still remember to this day.
Classic film fans are a window to a part of our past and our history that is starting to be forgotten. As the living links to this time begin to fade away we remain, standing resolute against the dimming light. Even though it isn’t popular or “cool” it is something that is needed and vital for what we hope society can be. I’m not foolish enough to think that the time of classic films was an ideal utopia that we should bring back in its entirety, but I do think that there are certain pieces and attitudes of it that are needed today. Like knowing your neighbor, like having a sense of community and pride in that community. In this world a child can’t walk to the park down the street by himself without fear of his parents being arrested for neglect, people are more likely to text someone than call, email than write a letter, Facebook than actually go and see someone face to face. We seem to have lost the sense of strength and togetherness we used to have, the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, and the respect for each other and the world around us. But as classic film fans we still see those values and attitudes reflected back at us in the movies we watch, the songs we listen to, and the books we read. And we have a chance to help keep all that alive, to continue standing firm holding up our small lights in the approaching darkness, showing anyone and everyone that classic films not only matter but that they are important, smart, fun, and life changing. And all we have to do is watch the films we love, read the books we enjoy, and listen to the stories that people want to tell us.
One of our local libraries was having a book sale…it was madness but luckily the books I want are of no interest to the book sellers who push you out of the way. I got tons more but these are the classic film related ones!
In case the picture isn’t clear here is a list of what I got:
Those Fabulous Movie Years: The 30s
Bing by Charles Thompson
The Great Movies by Roger Ebert
Life Itself by Roger Ebert
Kate; The Life of Katharine Hepburn by Charles Higham
Garbo by Norman Zierold
Swanson on Swanson; An Autobiography by Gloria Swanson
Out of the stuff of one of the saddest and most arresting human dramas of our times—that is the fate of the children of Europe whose homes were wrecked and whose lives were damaged by the war—Lazar Wechsler, a Swiss film producer, has made a picture which may prudently be said to be as fine, as moving, and as challenging as any the contemporary screen provides. The Search is its American title, and it opened at the Victoria last night. Our earnest wish is that it might be seen by every adult in the United States.
When I first watched THE SEARCH I was stunned. I was stunned that I had never heard of this movie before. Stunned that not more people talked about this film, stunned that it wasn’t mentioned more when post WWII cinema is discussed. I was stunned at how good this movie was, how moving it was, how meaningful it was. The above quote is from the original New York Times review from 1948 when the film was released. The reviewer goes on to say;
For The Search is not only an absorbing and gratifying emotional drama of the highest sort, being a vivid and convincing representation of how one of the “lost children” of Europe is found, but it gives a graphic, overwhelming comprehension of the frightful cruelty to innocent children that has been done abroad. Within the framework of a basic human story—the tireless search of a displaced Czech mother for her little boy and the parallel efforts of others to help the nameless youngster and give him security after the war—it clearly lays out for us a problem facing western civilization today: what’s to be done with this vast backwash of shattered children who will be grown-ups tomorrow?
THE SEARCH opens with trains carrying children. These are orphans, children separated from their parents and families, children who have seen unspeakable things in concentration camps, who have lived on the streets, who have hidden in fear from the Nazis. This time the trains are taking them to an American camp, specifically set up for the processing and care of these lost souls. In charge of this camp is Mrs. Murray (Aline MacMahon), a older matronly woman with the hardened efficiency of the military officer she is, and the kindly concern of a mother that she might be. The children are frightened and unsure what is about to happen with them. None speak English and for many the last train they rode on took them to a place of nightmares. Through gestures and some French, Russian, Polish, German, Czech, Hungarian, and Hebrew, most of the children are able to give their names and tell their terrible tales. One girl was forced to clear away the clothes of the people who had been gassed, finding among them the blouse of her mother. Another young boy saw his parents killed before his very eyes. The adults are shocked and saddened by what they hear, but they do their best to try and make the children understand that they are safe at last.
Among the children there is one little boy who remains silent refusing to speak except for “Ich weiß nicht”, I don’t know. The only one who knows him is a little French boy who has been hiding with him, but even his French companion does not know this boy’s true name or where he comes from. The only clue is a number tattooed on his arm and a woolen cap on his head, obviously made with love. The mute little boy is named Karel Malik (Ivan Jandi) from Czechoslovakia and he was the son of a mother and a father, and little brother to a sister. What Karel cannot remember is what happened to him, what happened to make him forget and be silent. He and his mother were separated from his father and sister and sent to a concentration camp. While in the camp Mother and son were separated and it was this trauma that sent Karl into his mute state.
The children are to be moved to a larger facility, one equipped to handle them. They are loaded into ambulances but many children panic because ambulances were used to transport those on their way to the gas chamber. After some coaxing the children board the vehicles and start on their way. But during the journey some children smell exhaust fumes and mistakenly believe they are on their way to be gassed. Several children break out of the vans and begin running away, including Karel and his companion. While most of the children are rounded up and brought back, Karel and his friend attempt to ford a river to get away. In the crossing Karel’s friend drowns and he himself is assumed drowned when only his woolen cap can be found.
Karel wanders into the ruins of a town, tired, hungry, and suffering from a cut foot. He comes across an American GI eating a sandwich in his jeep. Ralph “Steve” Stevenson (Montgomery Clift) shares his sandwich with Karel and decides that he cannot leave the young boy on his own. It takes some strong arms and determination, but Steve manages to get Karel back to his house. Once he shows Karel that he and his friend, Jerry Fisher (Wendell Corey), can be trusted things calm down. Steve even begins teaching Karel, whom he nicknames “Jim” as he has no idea of Karel’s true identity, to speak English and is trying to use government channels to find out any background information on Karel using the number tattooed on his arm. When the answer comes back that there is no child registered with that number and that no one has come looking for a child matching Karel’s description, the official suggestion is to take Karel to a government camp especially as Steve is awaiting his transfer orders back to the United States. Steve isn’t too happy with this course of action however, as he and “Jim” have started to bond, and begins trying to find a way to bring the boy back to America with him. But what Karel and Steve don’t know is that Karel’s mother, Hanna (Jarmila Novotna), has survived the concentration camp and is now searching for her lost son.
I have to be honest, I never was completely blown away from Montgomery Clift. I often found his characters rather similar in their portrayal, tortured and angst ridden, and I attribute that to his real life struggles with anxiety and later drug and alcohol addiction. I know that his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, though it was his greatest and most enduring, took a toll on him emotionally which possibly contributed to the angst we see on screen. But THE SEARCH introduced me to a completely new Montgomery Clift. This is his first starring role and there is a genuineness and eagerness to him. You can almost feel his energy, his earnestness, and there is a true star quality on display. We are seeing Montgomery Clift at the beginning, before life took it’s toll, and it is dazzling.
Rumor has it that Ivan Jandi spoke no English and learned all his lines phonetically. If this is true it is all the more impressive, as even with no command of the English language Ivan Jandi turns in a performance that is so affecting that it will stay with you long after the film is over. The relationship between his character and Montgomery Clift’s Steve feels honest and true, with no hint of American propaganda or overly sweet sentimentalism. This relationship is the heart and soul of this film, and it works beautifully. Steve moves through the initial shock of realizing that this little boy has been through the horrors of a concentration camp, and all the terrible things that entails, and comes to a feeling of responsibility and love for his young charge. This is not a case of a swell American taking in a stray refugee and showing him how terrific America is, rather this is simply a man who has seen terrible things that have shaken him to the core who finds a young boy who has suffered those terrible things and wants to do the best thing for him.
THE SEARCH is a film that I feel is important. Usually noted for being shot among the actual ruins of Ingolstadt, Nuremberg, and Würzburg, there is so much more to this film. THE SEARCH is a beautiful film that pulls no punches when it comes to telling the horrors of war and the terrible things done to the children at the hands of the Nazis. It pulls no punches at the emotional toll the war has taken on the soldiers, the civilians, and the children. It is honest, heartbreaking, and amazingly well done. I truly hope that you will take the time to seek out this film and see it for yourselves.
The Search, in our estimation, is a major revelation in our times.
-New York Times Film Review by Bosley Crowther, 1948
If you want to hear more about Montgomery Clift you can find a terrific podcast by Karina Longworth called You Must Remember This here. Also, here is the link to the original movie review quoted in this post. Finally, if you would like to own a copy of THE SEARCH you can buy it here!
This August the lovely Virginia of The Wonderful World of Cinema will be hosting her first blogathon! If that wasn’t exciting enough it will be a blogathon dedicated to Ingrid Bergman! I love Ingrid Bergman and I think that so many people only think of her as the woman in CASABLANCA that her vast body of work is often overlooked. So this is a great chance for you to become acquainted with some of Ingrid Bergman’s other films, as well as support Virginia in her first blogathon! I am excited to be doing a post on INTERMEZZO (the American version), which Leonard Maltin calls “one of the greatest love stories ever filmed”…and it has Leslie Howard in it too, along with the luminous Ingrid Bergman in her first English starring role!
The roster is already full of some terrific blogs so be sure to check it out!
The lovely Karen over at Shadows and Satin is awesome, we know this. So when she said she would be interested in a decoupage notebook, something pre-code or noir, I wanted to make something as awesome as she is! Here is what I came up with:
It’s a pre-code and noir decoupage mashup! I am happy with how it came out and I hope Karen will enjoy it! This bad boy will be whisking his way to his new home soon…but if you like what you see let me know and maybe we can create a mashup just for you!
When I think of a beach movie I don’t just think of white sandy beaches, swaying palm tress, and Annette Funicello in a two piece. I think of a movie the is easy, enjoyable, and fun. The sort of film that I can just sit back, relax, sip my iced tea, and laugh myself silly. And ROAD TO SINGAPORE is just that.
Directed in 1940 by Victor Schirtzinger and starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour, this was the first film in what would become the wildly popular and successful Road Movies series. The series would total seven movies following the exploits of Bob and Bing and Dorothy (who appeared in all but one film as the primary love interest) and would bring much success to not only the stars, but Paramount studios as well.
As anyone who has seen a Road movie knows, the plot is pretty simple and is mostly there to help Bob and Bing get from point A to point B with little to no trouble while having time to make plenty of jokes along the way. Bing is Josh Mallon and he, along with his buddy Ace Lannigan (Bob Hope), works onboard an American ship. They are having a fine old-time until the ship docks at port one day. While enjoying watching the other suckers head off to home with their wives and kids, Josh and Ace are gleefully recounting how lucky they are to be free and clear of all that responsibility when they are met by three glowering men. They have come to extend a wedding invitation to Ace, as it seems that one of his former flames by the name of Cherry is getting hitched and she would like Ace to be there as he is going to be playing the part of the groom. Not wanting to get roped into a shotgun wedding, Ace and Josh fight their way free and start a waterfront brawl in the process. The fight makes the front page, which is bad news for Josh not only because it embarrasses his father, a rich shipping magnate (Charles Coburn), but also because it alerts his fiancee Gloria that he is back in town. Gloria is, how shall we say, a bit of a bulldozer and is quite willing to overlook Josh’s behavior and design them a fabulous apartment to live in just as long as Josh remembers his promise to marry her. Josh is not that thrilled at the prospect but finally agrees, especially after the words “family honor” are thrown around.
The night of Gloria and Josh’s engagement party arrives but Josh is nowhere to be found. That is because he is visiting Ace, who has taken up refuge on his boat on what we can only assume are international waters. Originally planning to just drop off some groceries and run, Josh suddenly becomes involved in his own version of The Old Man and The Sea and spends the next several hours wrestling the fish into Ace’s boat. This of course makes him terribly terribly late to his party, a fact which isn’t helped much when he and Ace show up with the fish in tow. Some time later, after the fish has been cleared from the deck, Ace and Josh are enjoying the evening by singing some songs and doing some routines for the delight of the crowd. Gloria’s brother, who happens to a class A jerk, decides this is the right moment to throw some insults to the two which results in yet another brawl that makes the front page. But this one is on the front page of a gossip magazine which is less than thrilling to Josh’s father and his prospective father-in-law. Even worse, no one can find Josh as he has fled along with Ace and is somewhere in the region of Singapore.
More precisely, Ace and Josh are hiding out on the island of Kaidu. Living the high life and throwing cigarette butts wherever they darn well please, the pals head out one night to the local watering hole with their entire fortune (a whole $1.26) to get some drinks. While there they are treated to a show which stars a brooding latin type (Anthony Quinn) and his beautiful dancing assistant, Mima (Dorothy Lamour). Ace takes a shine to the pretty woman and this leads to some jealous whipping from her partner. Ace and Josh won’t take that lying down and they start, you guessed it, another brawl. This time however, the two men make their escape quickly and take Mima with them. What follows from there is the typical nonsense Road movie plot which all leads up to the question, who will get the girl?
ROAD TO SINGAPORE was a script that had been kicking around Hollywood for years but had never been picked up. The original story was that of two bachelors who were trying to escape their ex-flames whom they had met in Singapore, when the both meet a beautiful woman. This is clearly not what ROAD TO SINGAPORE is about. In fact, the story goes that Bob and Bing threw out the original script and just tried to outdo each other in making the crew laugh. This explains why the plot of most Road movies, especially with later entries in the canon, are pretty nonsensical. Bob and Bing just riffed off each other, each one trying to get a bigger laugh from the cameramen and assembled crew. It is rumored that during filming Dorothy Lamour turned to camera and said, “Hey fellas, I haven’t had a line for ages!” One day during the filming, the original screenwriters came to set to see how the movie was coming along. They were shocked to find that nothing of their original script remained, prompting Bob Hope to quip that if they heard any of their original lines of dialogue to “yell bingo”.
But this nonsensical joking is exactly the thing that I love about the Road movies. I first saw ROAD TO SINGAPORE when I was about twelve or so. I was spending a few days at my grandparent’s house and I was watching TV in their bedroom when I stumbled upon AMC which was showing a Road movie marathon. I had no idea what these movies were but I stayed up for hours past my bedtime watching one after the other, laughing hysterically. These were some of the funniest movies I had ever seen, and they also were the movies that rekindled my love of classic films. Are the Road movies perfect? No. Are some of the jokes a little dated or even not as funny to a modern audience who has no idea of the cultural in jokes of the time? Maybe. Are there some less than politically correct/slightly stereotyped gags and roles? Yes, I mean there is a whole section of this film where the boys paint themselves tan to “go native”. But none of this diminishes the appeal of the film to me.
On the whole, I feel like the Road movies get unfairly put down as lesser films. This is the original buddy movie! There is no greater chemistry than that of Bob and Bing. The riffing, ad-libbing, and one upping each other makes these films super funny. The Road movies also were clever send ups and spoofs of popular films of the day, such as Alaskan adventures, Arabian adventures, and high seas adventures. They are also a great combination of action, adventure, romance, and musical, basically something for everyone. One of the best running gags of the Road movies is that of Bob Hope breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience, usually leading to some overacting which Bing calls him out on. One of Bob Hope’s most famous running gags throughout his career, that of wanting to win an Oscar, had it’s start in the Road movies.
ROAD TO SINGAPORE doesn’t have all the gags that would become staples of the Road series, but the pieces are there and we can see where it is going. The chemistry between the three leads is bubbling under the surface and it already feels like a match made in heaven. It is a more traditional and grounded film but still fun in it’s own right. It holds a special place in my heart because it introduced me to the Road movies, to Bob and Bing, and to just how funny movies could be. So excuse me while I go and stick my feet in the sand, and spend some time in Kaidu with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour.