#BeyondTheCover Blogathon Shout-Outs!

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!

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The “Dot” Blogathon: ROAD TO UTOPIA (1946)

This post is part of The “Dot” Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock.  Be sure to check out the other posts here!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Book Babbles: BLIND DATE WITH A BOOK UNBOXING AND AN IDEA

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!

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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!

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Not sure if you can read that but on the tag Brittany put a few “clues” as to what the book is…any guesses?

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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!

February 2016: A WRAP-UP AND WHY THINGS ARE QUIET

Hard to believe that another month has gone by!  But here we are once again for the monthly wrap-up!

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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!

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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!

Classics From Criterion: THE BROWNING VERSION (1951)

One of the things I enjoy the most about the Criterion Collection is discovering hidden gems within the collection.  There are always the splashier, more famous titles that we all know and love for good reason.  But every once in a while I pick up a movie that I have heard little to nothing about, one I have never seen before and find interesting and give it a go only to find that it is an amazing film that deserves to be talked about more.  THE BROWNING VERSION is one such film.

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Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) is a master of classics at an English public school.  Getting on in years, he has been forced to leave his position due to poor health.  At the suggestion of his doctor, Crocker-Harris is taking a lesser position at a smaller school and leaving his classics behind.  His current class is less than dismayed at this turn of events.  “The Crock”, as the boys call him, is not well liked either by his students or his peers.  He is pedantic, reserved to the point of being stuffy, and generally unable to endear himself to his fellow man.

Someone who does not suffer from this problem is Crocker-Harris’ wife, Millie (Jean Kent).  In fact she has made many friends, including the science master Frank Hunter (Nigel Patrick) with whom she has been carrying on an affair.  She despises her husband, seeing him as weak, ineffectual, and totally absorbed in his work.  Clearly she had different ideas as to what her husband would be doing with his life and career when they got married.  She has given up on any hope of happiness with her husband, and her husband has given up any hope of happiness in his life at all.

Crocker-Harris is aware that he is disliked, aware that his students not only dislike him but loathe him as well.  He also knows that his colleagues have no regard for him and that his career is not what he wanted to make of it.  He knows that his wife dislikes him and that any semblance of a happy marriage has disappeared long ago.  He feels himself a failure, not only as a teacher but as a man, and he has resigned himself to being a failure for the rest of his days.  When he meets his successor and hears that fellow staffers refer to him as “The Himmler of fifth level”, he is hurt but accepts that this is only proper and just considering what his life is.  It isn’t until one of his students, a lad named Taplow, brings him a good-bye present that things begin to change for Crocker-Harris.

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THE BROWNING VERSION is based on a one act play written by Terence Rattigan, and was adapted for the screen by the same.  While the play ends when Crocker-Harris receives his gift from Taplow, the film continues on and gives a much more complete and emotionally satisfying ending.  The fact that Rattigan himself wrote this new ending is perhaps more reassuring that this was the ending that he always meant to infer with his play.

If you are hoping to find something similar to GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS then I am afraid you will be extremely disappointed.  THE BROWNING VERSION is an examination not only of a man’s life and his family, but also of failures of all kinds.  The failure of unfulfilled dreams, of incompatible love turned into mutual destruction, of disconnection, and resignation to ones lot in life.  It also asks the question, when is it too late to change or is it ever too late?

I have heard this film described as a man looking back on his life and realizing that he has been a failure in his job and his marriage.  But I think that that is a very simplistic view.  I think that Crocker-Harris was aware that he had failed in many aspects of his life but it wasn’t until he was presented with the end of his current position and with a possibility of some kindness and consideration that he must confront this failure and decide what is to be done.  Tallow’s gift echoes pieces of Crocker-Harris’ past, pieces that he had given up and that those around him have forgotten.  For a moment when he receives this gift her can see a possibility of happiness once again if only he could figure out how to get it.

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Mrs. Crocker-Harris could easily been seen as a purely nasty person but I think that she has been disappointed just as her husband has, but her disappointment comes from the man she married and his inability to be the person she wants him to be.  When she realizes she can’t inspire or affect him to become that person, she decides to destroy him instead so that she can at least have some satisfaction from watching him to respond to something of her making.  While many of the people in THE BROWNING VERSION are mean, I would not say any of them are bad.  Rather they are all unhappy and dissatisfied in their own ways, and they each respond to this dissatisfaction differently.

This film also presents a fairly unflattering portrait of public education staff life.  Teachers are shown to be petty, rude, and gossipy.  Another teacher is leaving along with Crocker-Harris but he is leaving to play cricket and the difference between the two farewells is obvious and hurtful.  When the head master asks Crocker-Harris to allow the younger master to give his farewell speech second, a slight to the more senior master, because the expected response and applause will be far greater than the one for Crocker-Harris, we can feel the harshness of the comment because it is something that still happens today.  Popular sports outweighing academia once again.

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Finally, Michael Redgrave is phenomenal.  He carries this film utterly and he manages to portray Crocker-Harris not only as a unpleasant person but also as one that we can sympathize with.  We can dismiss him as simply a man who has failed at life but if we take the time to really listen to the words being said and really see the nuances in Redgrave’s performance we will see that here is a man who once had hope and promise, and through a series of decisions has lost that.  There is tragedy here and it is a tragedy that we can all relate to as who among us hasn’t had a moment where we wondered, “What if?”

 

Watching With Warner: THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (1934)

Things have been a bit slow around here on the blog.  Life got a bit hectic in the last two months and so I didn’t have the time that I wanted to watch movies to blog about.  But hopefully things will be getting back to normal now and so I have returned with a film from the Warner Archive about the courtship of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, as well as the Barrett family and their patriarch.

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In the home of Edward Barrett (Charles Laughton), the doctor has come to visit the eldest daughter.  Elizabeth Barrett (Norma Shearer) has been ill for many years and standing, let alone walking, is very difficult and painful.  Despite her misgivings, Elizabeth’s doctor assures her that full recovery is possible if only she has the will to make it so.  Elizabeth has no outlet aside from her beautiful and brilliant poetry, which is often published, and her many siblings.  In particular she enjoys spending time with her sister Henrietta (Maureen O’Sullivan) but their fun is cut short by the disapproval and tyrannical behavior of their father.  Edward Barrett wastes no time in telling Elizabeth that her doctor is mistaken and that she is still very ill, in fact she may very well be close to death.  He even defies the doctors orders in his almost perverse attempt to keep her confined to her rooms.  He demands strict obedience from all his children and has forbidden any of his children from marrying.

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In spite of her father’s wishes, or perhaps in part because of them, Henrietta continues to see a friend of her brothers named Surtees Cook (Ralph Forbes).  The two secretly see each other and love begins to blossom.  Surtees has a promising career in the military and wants to marry Henrietta.  She loves him and wishes to be his wife but refuses him due to her father’s iron rule, as she can see no way around it.  It is Elizabeth who encourages her to do whatever she can in order to be happy.  It is soon after, during a snowstorm, that Elizabeth Barrett meets Robert Browning (Fredric March).  A fellow poet, Robert Browning is quite famous throughout London and has fallen in love with Elizabeth over several months of reading her poetry.  Deciding that he must meet her, he arrives in a swirl of life and snow and changes everything.  He declares his admiration for her and Elizabeth responds by telling him that she could die at any moment.  He responds by laughing this off and encouraging her to seize the day and live her life fully.  As he takes his leave, Elizabeth stands and makes her way unsteadily to the window for the first time in years just to see him once more.

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Months pass and Elizabeth blossoms.  She becomes stronger and healthier with each passing day, her new found lust for life astounding her doctors and worrying her father.  For his part, Edward continues to admonish his daughter against becoming too adventurous and warns her that another relapse may be close at hand.  Elizabeth’s doctors propose a trip to Italy in order to aid in her recovery and Robert is more than happy to support this plan.  In fact, he had plans to go to Italy himself at just about the same time.  He comes to call on Elizabeth and in her joy, she walks down the stairs to greet him surprising everyone.  Of course, her father not only squashes her plans to go to Italy but also her new found spirit and carries her back upstairs.  Some time later, the Barrett’s chatty cousin Bella has come to visit Elizabeth.  When she hears that Elizabeth is not going to Italy she resolves to convince her uncle Edward to allow it because she firmly believes that she can talk any man into anything.  She goes downstairs to prove this point when Henrietta announces that Robert Browning has come to visit Elizabeth.  Elizabeth and Robert declare their love for each other but Elizabeth still fears her father finding anything out about Robert’s and her relationship.  Downstairs meanwhile, Bella has just spilled the beans that Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett are rather more than good friends just as Edward Barrett was beginning to consider the trip to Italy.  Instead, he begins to plot a trip of his own for Elizabeth…one that will take her far away from Robert Browning.

THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET made me think of THE HEIRESS…if the father in THE HEIRESS was just ever so slightly, oh what’s the word, insane.  Based on the famous 1930 play of the same name, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET omitted most of the references to Edward Barrett’s sexually aggressive behavior towards his children, which was a large part of the play but which has no basis in historical record.  The real Edward Barrett did have a strange habit of disinheriting any of his children who married, but that is as far as it went as far as documentation is concerned.  In the play, Edward has rather incestuous intentions towards his daughters with special attention lavished on Elizabeth.  In the film however, there is only vague reference to this with a great deal of euphemisms used to imply that Edward is a sex addict who not only has designs on his daughters, but also had many child with his late wife as a result of marital rape.  Yeah.  Of the script changes, Charles Laughton said “They can censor it all they like, but they can’t censor the gleam out of my eye”.  Watching the film you definitely get the sense that all is not quite right in the Barrett household and this unease only increases as the story progresses.  I started off watching this and thinking it was a perfectly fine historical romance and about halfway through things started taking a turn that made it something more.

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This is really Norma Shearer’s movie.  She has to carry the entire story and much of it while sitting on a couch, unable to move about freely, in the same set-piece for most of the film.  Even when she is offscreen her presence is still felt, just waiting until she appears again.  I think that too often Norma Shearer gets pegged as either “The Divorcee”, “The Woman from THE WOMEN”, or “Mrs. Irving Thalberg”.  Well, yes she was all of these but she was also a really good actress who could do more than put on a slinky gown and be charming.  She could also be quiet, emotional, and dramatic.  She could be intelligent, witty, and strong.  She does a wonderful job as Elizabeth Barrett and it isn’t until the credits roll that you remember that she isn’t.  I will admit that at first I felt like I was watching Norma Shearer in a costume but after some time I forgot all that and only saw Elizabeth.

THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET was definitely different than I thought it would be.  More than a romance based in history and more than a historical saga with a love story, this is a film that tells of a love and of a darkness that came about when Robert Browning met Elizabeth Barrett.

 

Announcing the Beyond The Cover Blogathon!

Many of the greatest movies were adapted from books, tomes ranging from classic to obscure, from hardboiled detective pulp fiction to science fiction to children’s fables, by writers like Ian Fleming, Stephen King, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Raymond Chandler and so many more. This blogathon is your opportunity to focus on great cinema that started as words on a page.

Please join Liz of Now, Voyaging and Kristina of Speakeasy in celebrating cinematic adaptations of the written word in the BEYOND THE COVER blogathon.

The event takes place April 8, 9 and 10, 2016.

There are so many books to movies that no duplicates are allowed, BUT different movies from the same book are fine. You can complain about the adaptations, you can hail the director’s choices or you can cover a whole book series.

Video/booktube and podcast entries are welcome along with the traditional blog posts. Books and films from all countries are fair game so please feel free to travel the world in search of great literary adaptations!

Just check the roster below to see which topics are already taken and then sign up using the handy form. When blogathon time comes just tweet us the link or leave it in the comments and we’ll all have fun reading your writing about film that came from reading writing.

Help yourself to one of the banners in this post, help us promote on your blog and on social media at #BeyondtheCover, and see you Apr 8-10!!

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*many thanks to Ruth of Silver Screenings for making these wonderful banners

 

Sign up here, or click here to open signup form in a new window

 

 

The roster so far (click here to open in a new window):

January 2016: A Wrap-Up

January was another busy month for me but I still managed to get some movies under my belt!

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Blogathons: I took part in several blogathons this month including The Loretta Young Blogathon, The Backstage Blogathon, and The Classic Collaborations Blogathon!

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Twelve Classics for 2016: I started off 2016 by watching the first of my Twelve Classics for 2016.  I can now say that I have seen THE LADY EVE and it was fantastic!

Classic Film Blogger Shout-Out: Ruth of Silver Screenings is my pick for this month!  Ruth is just awesome and she is also a super nice person to boot!  Head over to her site to see all of her wonderful posts and be sure to check out the O’Canada Blogathon that she is co-hosting with Kristina of Speakeasy.

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Favorite Film Discovery of the Month: This one goes to GREAT EXPECTATIONS directed by David Lean.  This was my first foray into the world of classic film Dickens and I LOVED it! By far my favorite film that I saw all month and one that is now added to my favorites list!


Be sure to take a look at my other monthly wrap-ups here!

 

The O’Canada Blogathon: BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY (1919)

This post is part of the O’Canada Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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In the far northwoods, in a small cabin there lived Dolores LeBeau (Nell Shipman) and her father (Roy Laidlaw).  They are quite happy there living the simple life, alongside the many and varied types of wildlife that Dolores has tamed and made friends of.  Into this idyllic life comes a naturalist, one Peter Burke (Wheeler Oakman, who is part author part government inspector.  He is traveling the woods looking for inspiration for his next book and soon becomes the houseguest of Dolores and her father.  During his time there he and Dolores fall in love and their days are spent blissfully together.

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After some time Burke decides to take his leave and continue on his journey toward Ottawa.  In order to make sure that her love will return to her, Dolores steals his manuscript out of his pack before he departs.  At that moment a dangerous criminal is making his way through the underbrush.  Rydal (Wellington Playter) is the master of a trading vessel wanted for murder and he is traveling with his accomplice (Charles B. Murphy).  While Rydal sits by the fire he is confronted by a Canadian Mountie who places him under arrest.  But as they are heading back to the post, Rydal’s accomplice ambushes them and kills the mountie.  The two head off with Rydal now dressed as a mountie.  They soon happen upon Dolores who is taking a bath in the nearby pool along with her friend bear.

Rydal is taken with the young beauty and decides that he wants to see more of her.  Much more.  So he pretends to be a wounded mountie and seeks shelter with Dolores and her father.  While Dolores is hesitant, her father welcomes the two men with open arms and they spend the night.  The next morning, emboldened by his dreams overnight, Rydal decides to make his move while her father is away gathering wood.  With his accomplice blocking the door, Rydal attacks Dolores and soon her screams bring her father rushing back.  In the ensuing struggle Rydal’s accomplice is killed by Dolores’ father and Rydal, playing the part of the mountie, arrests him declaring that he will take him back to the post for trial.  Meanwhile, Burke has realized that his manuscript has gone missing and is returning to Dolores’ home in order to retrieve it.  He arrives to find a dead man in the doorway and the house empty.  Following the path he sees Dolores, who watches in horror as Rydal throws her father over a cliff.  She dives in after him and Burke dives in after her.  The two of them pull Dolores’ father’s lifeless body from the water as Rydal makes his escape.

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One year later, Burke and Dolores are married and now living in an apartment in the city.  Burke is working on his writing and Dolores is pining for the fjords, or at least her little cabin in the woods with her animal friends.  A telegram arrives from the Department of the Interior telling Burke that arrangements have been made for them both to sail to Halifax on the Flying Moon, a trading vessel that will take them up towards Baffin Island and into the Arctic.  After several days onboard Dolores and Burke are curious as they have not yet seen their captain.  When they do see him, Dolores wishes that they hadn’t.  The captain is none other than Rydal and he has not forgotten Dolores or his designs on her.

With an estimated budget of $67,000 BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY became one of Canda’s first major motion pictures and it was the most successful silent Canadian film.  The film was directed by David Hartford and produced by Nell Shipman and her husband, Ernest Shipman.  Nell Shipman had created Shipman Curwood Producing Company in 1918 in order to make BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY, which would end up being the only film the company produced.  The screenplay was based on a story written by James Oliver Curwood entitled Wapi, The Walrus, and was adapted by Nell Shipman herself.  This adaptation caused some issues with Curwood, who took exception to the fact that Nell took facets of Wapi and molded them into the character of Dolores.  She created a heroine who took on men and won, saved her love, and generally kicked bottom.  Curwood was mad because this character was portrayed by a dog in his story.

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Well, sorry to Mr. Curwood but if BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY was about a dog then I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half so much.  In fact the main reason this film is so successful is Nell Shipman and her portrayal of Dolores.  The men try but they come up pretty one dimensional.  Burke is pretty vanilla as far as romantic heroes go and Rydal is a  slightly over the top melodramatic baddie.  But Dolores is fantastic!  Nell Shipman is lovely but not in a traditionally beautiful way and her body is real and natural.  She is a fit and athtletic woman and it shows.  She also loved nature and animals which is something that really comes through with her animal co-stars.  Nell Shipman does a fantastic job of bringing an empowered and intelligent heroine of her own making to life.

This is by no means a perfect film.  Along with the previously mentioned less than impressive male characters, there are also some instances of “brown-face” and some less than sensitive ethnic portrayals.  But Nell Shipman is fantastic and the Canadian wilderness is on grand display here making BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY an example of early Canadian cinema well worth seeing.  So if you are intrigued here is the film, restored beautifully by Library and Archives Canada.  Of note there is no musical score accompanying this film but it is gorgeous version with lovely color tinting.

 

Classics From Criterion: GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946)

Charles Dickens is an another author who I am sorry to say I have not read which is a situation that I hope to remedy soon.  That having been said, I have recently been on a reading binge which has brought me back to my bookworm roots.  So when I was trying to decide on a movie to watch the other day it seemed only right that I choose something with a literary basis.  Which led me to my copy of David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

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The story is that of a boy named Pip (Anthony Wagner).  He is a poor boy and an orphan, who now lives with his sister and her husband.  One stormy evening he makes his way to the churchyard to leave flowers on the grave of his parents.  While there he is startled by a gruff man with shackles on his arms and legs.  The man, named Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie), is an escaped convict and steals what items Pip has in his pockets and then demands that the frightened boy bring him food and a file for his chains.  Pip returns to his sisters home where he is greeted by her husband, Joe (Bernard Miles).  Joe is a blacksmith and is kind to Pip while his wife, Pip’s sister, is decidedly not.  After a less than pleasant dinner, Pip sneaks into the kitchen after everyone else is asleep and steals a meat pie and a file from Joe’s workshop.  He then hurries off to find Abel but runs into another escaped convict, this one with a scar across his cheek.  When Pip finally finds Abel he tells him about the another man with the scar.  Abel becomes agitated and thanks Pip for helping him before running off into the night.

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Sometime later soldiers come to the door looking for Joe.  They need help repairing a pair of shackles that they need in order to recapture some escaped convicts.  Joe repairs the shackles and then takes Pip along while they watch the soldiers hunt for the escaped men.  It isn’t too long before they hear sounds of a struggle and come upon Abel wrestling the man with the scar.  Abel declares his hatred for the other man and is once again arrested.  As the two men are lead back to the prison boat, Abel confesses to Joe that he stole a meat pie from his house but never mentions Pip playing any part.

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Some time passes and Pip is summoned to the great house of the eccentric spinster, Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) to act as a companion to the teenaged girl who lives there named Estella (Jean Simmons).  Estella is cold and cruel, though beautiful, and she mocks Pip’s manners and coarse behavior at every opportunity.  Though he finds her behavior hurtful Pip still falls in love with her.  During his visits to the house he also meets a skinny young boy who challenges Pip to a fist fighting match.  Pip easily beats the boy who surprisingly stands up and politely thanks Pip before the latter takes his leave.  When Pip turns fourteen his visits come to an end as he must begin his apprenticeship as a blacksmith.  Estella also leaves at this time, heading to France in order to learn how to be a lady.

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Six years later Pip (John Mills) and Joe are visited by Miss Havisham’s lawyer, Mr. Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan).  Mr. Jaggers tells Pip that he is the recipient of a mysterious benefactor who hopes to help turn him into a gentleman with “great expectations”.  Pip leaves Joe, who has been made a widower in recent years, along with the new housekeeper Biddy and travels to London where he is set up in an apartment by Mr. Jaggers.  At the apartment he meets his roommate, one Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness) who in fact turns out to be the skinny boy Pip met all those years before in Miss Havisham’s garden.  Herbert is charged with teaching Pip how to become a gentleman.  Herbert and Pip run up debts in their quest to make Pip a true London gentleman.  Herbert also tells Pip the truth of Miss Havisham and her intentions when it comes to Estella (Valerie Hobson), whom Pip still loves.

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This version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS is not based so much on the book as it is the 1939 stage adaptation which happened to feature Martita Hunt and Alec Guinness in the roles they would also play in the film.  David Lean had never read the Dicken’s classic and was cajoled into seeing the play by his wife.  The ending of the film was somewhat changed from that of the book thanks to an idea once again from David Lean’s wife which lead to her receiving a screenplay credit.

While GREAT EXPECTATIONS is a slimmed down version of the classic work it in no way feels rushed or choppy.  The whole story moves along with such compelling and intriguing action that you can’t help but get swept along.  Considered one of the best, if not the best, film version of a Dickens’ story I have to say that this film was absolutely wonderful.  There is a darkly twisted sense of humor that Dickens’ seems to have in many of his stories and that is evident here.  From the death masks on the wall of the lawyer’s office to the elderly man who only wants a nod from you now and again to keep him happy, evidence of the Dickensian sensibility is everywhere.  It feels as if David Lean has a great respect for the source material and made an effort to honor that.

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For such a complex and rich story the film version does a remarkably good job of pacing and plotting.  The story never feels bogged down in details and the characters never become muddled.  Yes there are certain elements from the book that are glossed over or removed and I am sure that if/when I read Great Expectations for myself I will find many things that the film never mentioned.  But GREAT EXPECTATIONS the film is smart, funny, exciting, suspenseful, and tremendous.  It is exceptionally well done and it is a film that I had never seen before but one that has now found its way on to my favorites list.  Moreover, GREAT EXPECTATIONS the film did the one thing that I believe all films based on books should do.  It made me excited to read the book!


If you have read Great Expectations or if you have seen this film or both let me know in the comments what you thought and how it compared to the book!