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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Beyond The Cover Blogathon is getting closer and we have some really terrific people signed up to take part! Not only are many fabulous classic film bloggers and movie bloggers joining in, but we have book bloggers and members of the Booktube community as well!
One such member of Booktube is Frankie of the channel Frankie Reads. She makes some really terrific videos about fantasy and science fiction and has recently surpassed one hundred subscribers! Her most recent video about what she is currently reading included a shout-out to the Beyond The Cover Blogathon and some really insightful comments about her pick for the event, THE COLOR PURPLE.
Here is Frankie’s video and be sure to go and check out her channel! Thanks so much Frankie for the extra buzz!
Also a big thanks to another fabulous Booktuber, Claire Quigley of Claire Quip Reads, who also gave the blogathon a mention in her recent video which you can see below! Claire reads a lot of different books and will be covering a pre-code film for the event so be sure to go and check out her channel!
One wintery evening, elderly married couple Sal (Dorothy Lamour) and Chester (Bob Hope) Hooten are spending a quiet night by the fire when they are interrupted by the arrival of an old friend. Duke Johnson is a friend that the Hootens have not seen for years and they immediately being reminiscing about their time in the Klondike.
At the turn of the century a man has been murdered by two thugs, McGurk (Nestor Pavia) and Sperry (Robert Barrat, yes I know!!) and his map to a gold mine has been stolen. With his dying breath the man tells his daughter, Sal, that the mine is in Alaska and to seek out a man called Ace Larson. Racing to the dock Sal manages to get the last boat to Alaska just ahead of Sperry and McGurk. The two men spot Sal but can do nothing to stop her especially as there are police nearby. In order to avoid suspicion the two men duck into a nearby theater where a vaudeville act is going on.
Duke and Chester are putting out all the stops in their performance and are currently working a “ghost scam” and encouraging the audience to gamble their money in an effort to double it. As the police enter the theater, Sperry and McGurk rush onstage upsetting the set and revealing Duke and Chester for charlatans. As the two thugs rush to avoid the police, Duke and Chester beat a hasty retreat. The two begin to divide up the money and Chester says that he is tired of running from town to town. Duke tries to convince him to come along to the Klondike to search for gold, but Chester isn’t having it. At the dock the two part ways, and pick pockets, until Duke is onboard and Chester is waving on the dock. At least he is until he sees Duke counting all his money onboard. Chester runs onboard ready to throttle his partner and notices that the boat has departed so whether he likes it or not, Chester is on his way to the Klondike.
Sal arrives in Alaska and meets up with Ace Larson (Douglas Dumbrill). Rather than going to the police, Larson assures her that he will take care of things. He also gives her a job as an entertainer in his saloon. Larson’s girlfriend, Kate (Hillary Brooke), is less than thrilled with this development but she cheers up considerably when Larson reveals his plan to steal Sal’s mine and keep it for the both of them. Meanwhile, Duke and Chester have run out of money to pay their passage aboard ship so they are now being put to work as the cleaning staff. While cleaning a cabin they come across the map to a gold mine. They realize that the occupants of the cabin are the thugs who killed Sal’s father (which was in the paper) and that they are right behind them. After a brief scuffle Duke and Chester emerge victorious. They take the map and the beards of their foes and exit the boat.
Now in Alaska, Duke and Chester argue about who should get to hold the map. They finally decide that the best plan is to tear it in half and have each man keep his own piece. Once that is settled they adopt a tough persona consistent with their beardy reputations and enter the nearby saloon. The saloon just happens to be owned by one, Ace Larson and amidst free champagne and female companionship the two men are treated to the main act. The curtain rises and who should emerge but Sal and that is where things get complicated.
First of, let me say that I love the Road series. I would watch them all day, every day on repeat if I could. Well, except for ROAD TO HONG KONG…we don’t mention that one. I think the fact the Dorothy Lamour has only a cameo in it is one of the reasons that it doesn’t work for me as a Road movie because honestly, who else could keep up with Bob and Bing and still be beautiful, feminine, and sassy? No one but our Dot, that’s who! She is just as quick and funny as either of her male co-stars and manages to hang on for the ride gamely when the schemes get zany or the al-libs whizz by.
ROAD TO UTOPIA is unique in that it is the only Road movie not to have a real place in the title and to not take place in a contemporary setting. I love the Robert Benchley narration, the breaking of the fourth wall, the craziness, the fact that Robert Barrat is in it. I also love the Alaskan setting. Most of the Road movies seem to take place in decidedly warmer climates and I do love me some mountain adventures. But there is also a slightly more adult feeling to this film. Sal is not some shrinking violet, nor some wide eyed innocent, nor an elegant princess. She is an average woman who takes control of her life and her situation and even sets a few plans of her own into motion. I really enjoy the fact that Sal is a tough and smart woman who speaks her mind. Also there are some jokes, especially at the end, regarding Sal and Chester’s marriage and offspring that are a bit sharper than the usual Road movie wackiness. Of note, ROAD TO UTOPIA is also unique for being one of only two films in the series where Bob Hope ends up with Dorothy Lamour, with the second one involving hypnosis…so maybe that one doesn’t count.
I love Dorothy Lamour. I love Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I love The Road movies and I loved having an excuse to watch ROAD TO UTOPIA. If you are having a bad day do yourself a favor and get a mug of your favorite warm beverage, cuddle up on the couch, and pop this movie in. You won’t regret it…tell them Sal sent you!
In my last wrap up I discussed the fact that I have been reading more lately and it was suggested that I share some of what I have been reading. So, in that vein I wanted to share two things with everyone!
First, I recently purchased a “Blind Date With A Book” from Under The Radar Books on Etsy. Brittany aka Under The Radar Books is a terrific booktuber who I have been watching for several months. If you haven’t seen her channel check it out here, especially if you like less known books, literary fiction, and magical realism. Brittany just opened her Easy store with the idea of setting readers up on blind dates with books. You simply pick any genre of book and Brittany will pick a book and send it to you! If this sounds like fun you can find her store here!
I selected “Brittany’s Choice” which meant that I told her some of my favorite recent reads and linked her my Goodreads account (which you can do if you have one but you don’t have to have one in order to get a book), and then I waited! Last week my blind date arrived!
Not sure if you can read that but on the tag Brittany put a few “clues” as to what the book is…any guesses?
I am so excited! I had not heard of this book but I am really looking forward to giving it a try!
On to my second bookish topic. I definitely am planning to include what I am reading in my monthly wrap ups but I wanted to see what you all thought about me starting to include some book reviews/discussions of what I am reading? I am currently reading COLD COMFORT FARM with two other awesome booktubers (Kate Howe and Ange of Beyond The Pages, both of whom are great especially if you like the classics) and I am really enjoying discussing the book with them. I am also giving serious thought to watching the film version after I finish the book and writing a post about it. I am also reading a biography of Catherine the Great and thinking about watching THE SCARLET EMPRESS afterwards. So, let me know what you think and if you would be interested in seeing some posts about my reading in the future!
Hard to believe that another month has gone by! But here we are once again for the monthly wrap-up!
Beyond The Cover Blogathon: The big news around the blog is obviously the Beyond The Cover Blogathon which is being hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and me! You can find the announcement post here, along with a handy dandy form made by Kristina so you can sign up to join in the fun in case you haven’t already! We are really excited for this event as we are not only getting interest from classic film bloggers but from book tubers/book bloggers as well! Stay tuned in April when you will get to see all the literary adaptation goodness!
Films I Watched and Favorite Film Discovery of the Month: I finally got to watch the Criterion Edition of THE BROWNING VERSION and I was quite surprised at what a moving and intelligent film it was. One of the great things about the Criterion Collection is that you can find films that you might never have heard of before, but ones that are great pieces of art and filmmaking. My favorite film I saw this month was definitely THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET. This was a film that started out as one thing and became something I totally did not expect!
Why Things Are Quiet: So, as you probably noticed things have been a little quieter around the blog lately. The reason is two fold. One, things personally have been a bit busier for me. Family responsibilities along with a shortened nap time (which was when I used to watch most of my classic movies) lead into sort of a film watching slump for me. To be honest, I had periods where I didn’t feel like watching anything and so I decided not to force myself because I want classic films and this blog to be something fun that I enjoy, not a chore. Second, my film watching slump lead me back to my other favorite hobby which is reading. All my life there are really two things that I like to do for fun…watching classic films and reading…and playing The Sims, but that is another story. Anyway, instead of watching movies I have been reading more and watching movies where and when I can. Apologies for the lack of posts of late but I didn’t want you to think I had abandoned this blog. Of course if you want to know about what I have been reading just let me know!
Classic Film Blogger Shout-Out: You have heard her name and you probably know her awesomeness…but this month I am spotlighting Fritzi of Movies Silently. She is amazing and her vast amount of knowledge and enthusiasm for silent films make her blog a place you must visit and subscribe to.
You can catch up on all my other monthly wrap-ups here!