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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

October looks to be a great month for viewing on TCM!  Here are some previews of what is coming up, as well as some things that I am excited to see!

The Star of the Month is David Niven!  Every Tuesday night in October will feature his films including one of my favorites A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (aka STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN).  Fridays this October are devoted to TCM Horror.  Twenty-five films such as THE HAUNTING, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, and THE BAD SEED.  There will also be a documentary entitled MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS, VAL LEWTON: THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS.  Silent film fans will want to make a note to set their DVRs for October 18th.  TCM is hosting a night of premieres with four silent films recently found which had been believed to be lost.  These films are THE GRIM GAME, SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE ROUND-UP, and THE LIFE OF THE PARTY.  Nathan Lane will be the TCM Guest Programmer this month and on October 21st will present his four picks which include ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, BEING THERE, and CITY LIGHTS.  Treasures from the Disney Vault will be on display on October 28th with seven films and five shorts.

The big news is that the TCM Spotlight for October is on Trail-Blazing Women; Behind the Movies, Ahead of Their Time which will be hosted by Ileana Douglas.  Tuesdays and Thursdays in October are devoted to women filmmakers with a display of fifty-four movies.  The movies will range from six films by the very first female director, Alice Blanche Guy, to THE HURT LOCKER by Kathryn Bigelow.  Some viewers might be surprised at the more “modern” films show by TCM during this spotlight but I think it is important to note that after the silent film era, women were mostly pushed out of positions of influence and power in films by men.  It wasn’t until more modern times that more and more women had positions that gave them creative input into films, although even today female filmmakers are facing issues of discrimination and prejudice in the field.  I am very excited to see this spotlight and can’t wait to help celebrate the influence of women in the movie making world.  TCM also has a terrific website for the event which can be found here.

This month The Essentials will show THE WIND, NINOTCHKA, ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, I REMEMBER MAMA, and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY.  TCM Underground is showing RATTLERS, THE SWARM, STREET FIGHTER, THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II and PART III, SIX MEN GETTING SICK, THE ALPHABET, THE GRANDMOTHER, THE AMPUTEE Version 1 and 2, PREMONITION FOLLOWING AN EVIL DEED, DUMBLAND, and TWICE UPON A TIME.  October is my Month of Silents and so I will definitely be watching Silent Sunday Nights’ offerings with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DR. JEKYLL and MR. HYDE, THE GRIM GAME, SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE ROUND-UP, THE LIFE OF THE PARTY, BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, and THE FAMILY SECRET.  Finally, TCM Imports is featuring LA CHIENNE, THE GRIM REAPER, NO END, and ANDREI RUBLEV.


Here are some daily themes to keep an eye out for!

October 2nd – Bob Hope and TCM Horror: Haunted Houses

October 4th – William Wyler Westerns

October 6th – Billie Burke

October 7th – TCM Birthday Tribute to June Allyson

October 8th – What a Character – Jack Oakie

October 9th – TCM Horror: Rogue Body Parts

October 12th – Treacherous Spouses

October 14th – TCM Birthday Tribute: Lillian Gish and Robert Osborne’s Picks

October 15th – TCM Birthday Tribute: Mervyn Leroy

October 16th – Happy Birthday!  Angela Lansbury 

October 18th – Lost & Found

October 24th – Starring Oskar Homolka

October 28th – All-Star Casts

October 30th – Hammer Horror Festival

October 31st – Happy Halloween


Here are some films that I am planning to check out in October.  I will highlight the ones that I think you can’t miss!

October 3rd – SABOTAGE AGENT (6 AM EST), THE WIND (8 PM EST), WOMEN IN THE WIND (1 AM EST)

October 4th – SUSAN AND GOD (6 AM EST), THE KILLERS (12 PM EST), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (12:45 AM EST), SCARLET STREET (4 AM EST)

October 5th – RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (3 PM EST), RAFFLES (8 PM EST), BACHELOR MOTHER (9:30 PM EST)

October 6th – DODSWORTH (6:15 AM EST), THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (8 AM EST), THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (10 AM EST), DINNER AT EIGHT (4:30 PM EST)

October 9th – THE GENERAL (6 AM EST), BERLIN EXPRESS (12 PM EST)

October 10th – THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (6 AM EST), THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (10 PM EST)

October 11th – DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (12:30 AM EST)

October 12th – SUSPICION (9:30 AM EST), A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (8 PM EST), ENCHANTMENT (3:45 AM EST)

October 13th – STRANGERS MAY KISS (10:30 AM EST)

October 15th – GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (9:45 AM EST)

October 17th – THE PETRIFIED FOREST (10 PM EST)

October 19th – MY MAN GODFREY (11:15 PM EST)

October 21st – THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (6:45 AM EST)

October 22nd – STORM IN A TEACUP (10 AM EST)

October 25th – THE MAD MISS MANTON (6:15 AM EST), KINGS ROW (7:45 AM EST), THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (4 PM EST)

October 26th – THE ROBIN HOOD OF EL DORADO (3:30 PM EST), MURDER BY DEATH (4:30 AM EST)

October 31st – BEDLAM (5:30 AM EST)


Some great programming coming up in October!  As always head over to Speakeasy and see what picks Kristina has for this month!

#LetsMovie TCM Discoveries Blogathon: KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937)

This post is part of the TCM Discoveries Blogathon hosted by Nitrate Diva and is also part of the TCM #LetsMovie Celebration.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

“A British spy tries to get a countess out of the new Soviet Union.”

This is the short synopsis of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR from TCM.  The first time I saw this film was during a Robert Donat kick.  I had just seen THE 39 STEPS for the first time and was totally enamored of Robert Donat.  I still am to be honest, but this was when it was still new and I wanted to see all the films that I could with him in them.  I recorded this film with no idea of what awaited me.

A.J. Fothergill (Robert Donat) is a reporter in exile.  Sent to live in Russia as punishment for an article he wrote, Fothergill has been there for six years.  His fluency in Russian has not gone unnoticed and he soon receives an offer from the Secret Service.  A ruined career behind him, Fothergill agrees to forgo British protection and join the Secret Service.  He takes the identity of Peter Ouranoff and enlists in a revolutionary group lead by a bookseller named Axelstein.  When one of the group’s members bombs a carriage carrying the father of Countess Alexandra Vladinoff (Marlene Dietrich), he is chased by police and shot.  He manages to make his way to Fothergill’s apartment where he later dies, while Fothergil is arrested and sent to Siberia for his trouble.

World War I breaks out and Countess Vladinoff is left a widow, while Fothergill has spent two years in the frozen tundra.  Axelstein predicts that the war will lead to a revolution thought Russia and in 1917, when the Siberian exiles are freed, he is made a Commissar of Khalinsk.  He asks Fothergill to assist him in his new world order.  One morning the Countess Vladinoff awakens to find that all the servants have left.  Masses of people swarm the mansion, looting the household and taking the Countess prisoner.  Soldiers take members of the elite and members of the Vladinoff household away for execution.  Axelstein arrives and demands fealty of those assembled.  He also gives Fothergill the task of taking the Countess Vladinoff to Petrograd to stand trial.

The two are unable to take a train as the rails are no longer running.  This doesn’t bother Fothergill as his plan is to take the Countess over to the White Army and to safety instead.  They reach the White Army and all seems well until the next day when the Red Army soundly defeats the White.  The Countess is captured once again and now Fothergill has two problems.  One, he much find a way to free the Countess and get her to safety and two, he is deeply in love with her.

This was the first time I can truly say that a film left me breathless.  KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR just stopped me in my tracks.  The story was compelling and so well done, the acting superb, and the visuals stunning.  But the most amazing thing to witness is the relationship between Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich.

Let me start off by saying that I love Robert Donat.  He has such a gentle and kind spirit, a real honest generosity that comes through in his acting that I just can’t help but fall for him just a little bit each time I see him.  Don’t worry my husband knows and he is OK with it.  Fothergill is a man of principle, a man who does what must be done for what is right, and for King and country.  But he is also a man deeply affected by the suffering he sees around him, a man who is strong without being brutish, a man who is tough without being hard, and a man who is a warrior without losing his heart.

Robert Donat was the first draw for me in viewing this film but he wasn’t the only one.  Marlene Dietrich usually seems so aloof, so unknown, so dangerous almost in her portrayals that you don’t always feel as if you have a handle on her.  But in this film she brings a sadness, a fragileness, and a humanness to the Countess.  She is at once bewildered to what is happening around her and understanding of what must be done in order to survive it.  She is a refined woman but able to be humble when necessary.  And the love that grows between her and the truly gentle gentleman played by Robert Donat is a stunner.

The real power in this story is the love story between the Countess and Fothergill.  Without that the story of their journey would not have nearly as much impact.  When I first saw KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR I was riveted.  The relationship grows slowly but deeply, having moments of open affection before being tucked away and hidden from view.  Just like in A BRIEF ENCOUNTER, it is the moments where they cannot say or do what they wish with all their heart to that mean the most.  Watching this film we find ourselves just as invested in their relationship as the characters are themselves.  We want them to find safety with each other but we don’t know how that might happen.  There is a moment that I still remember all these years after seeing it for the first time.  Fothergill has returned to find the Countess whom he has left hidden for safety.  When they find each other the two embrace and Fothergill almost whispers to her, “Did you think I would not return…for you?”  It gets me every time.

As TCM celebrates #LetsMovie I have to take this moment to say thank you.  Over the years TCM has changed in some ways while staying the same in others.  At the core of the channel there is a feeling that while there will be films that are more “mainstream” than others, there will still be these little gems hidden amongst them.  Come to see Robert Donat in GOODBYE MR. CHIPS or THE 39 STEPS, but stay to see him in THE CITADEL or KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR.  Basically, TCM gives us all the chance to see films that we might never have had a chance to otherwise.  Be they from the 2000s or 1900s, I am always grateful when TCM introduces me to a film that I have never seen before but end up loving.  There is nothing better than finding a film that takes your breath away, just like KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR did for me.  So…#LetsMovie

January 2015 Highlights on Turner Classic Movies

Taking a page from other bloggers (Speakeasy and ImmortalEmphemera to name two), I am going to try my hand at offering some suggestions and highlights from the January 2015 schedule for Turner Classic Movies!

The Star of the Month for January is Robert Redford and TCM will be showing his films every Tuesday starting at 8PM for the entire month.  Friday Night Spotlight for this month will focus on the films of Neil Simon, showing a total of seventeen films every Friday in January.  On January 12th the daytime spotlight will be on Luise Rainer, the two time Oscar winner who passed away at the end of December.  The spotlight on Ms. Rainer’s films was originally intended to be a birthday celebration but will now be a tribute to the life and career of this phenomenal actress and woman.  Celebrate the birthday of Patricia Neal on January 20th with seven of her films, including A FACE IN THE CROWD.  January 22nd will showcase five films from SAG Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Debbie Reynolds.  For those looking for a more exotic film experience, January 26th will have five films by Luis Buñuel.  The late and great Sir Richard Attenborough will have his own special night on January 28th with five films.  The guest programmer for January will be American composer Michael Feinstein, choosing four films which include RHAPSODY IN BLUE and CABIN IN THE SKY.


Here are some other themes for January that are of interest:

January 5th – This is a day where I would really like to just stay home and watch TCM all day.  The morning theme will focus on Lew Ayres and the primetime programming will be all about the fabulous Jean Arthur.  My DVR is already prepped!

January 6th – The morning and afternoon are all about Loretta Young!  TCM is celebrating her birthday with a day full of films, including several pre-code corkers including EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE and HEROES FOR SALE.

January 10th – The primetime theme will focus on three films by Fritz Lang, METROPOLIS, MINISTRY OF FEAR, and THE BLUE GARDENIA.  I have never seen METROPOLIS and 2015 is the year I change that!

January 21st – We all love our patron saint of TCM, Mr. Robert Osborne.  The primetime lineup on the 21st will be made up of Robert Osborne’s picks and they seem to be a wide range of films, from A PLACE IN THE SUN to THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.

January 27th – The morning programming will be a birthday tribute to one, Donna Reed.

January 28th –  A morning and afternoon devoted to forties horror?  Color me intrigued!

January 31st – I am so excited for this primetime lineup, which will be devoted to films starring John Barrymore!  I can’t wait to watch TWENTIETH CENTURY, COUNSELLOR AT LAW, and TOPAZE.


This month The Essentials will be continuing their excellent programming every Saturday with BUS STOP, METROPOLIS, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, and TWENTIETH CENTURY.  TCM Underground will be showing NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, MIAMI CONNECTION, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, VIGILANTE, and TWICE UPON A TIME.  Silent Sunday Nights continue with MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY, STOLEN MOMENTS, OLIVER TWIST, OUR HOSPITALITY, and FEU MATHIAS PASCAL.  Finally, TCM Imports will be showing CHILDREN OF PARADISE, KNIFE IN THE WATER, THE WARPED ONES, and THE MAGIC FLUTE.


Now here are some films that I would personally recommend, or that I hope to catch myself this month.  These are suggestions based solely on my opinion, but if you have liked the movies talked about on this blog so far, chances are you will like these too!

January 3rd –  BUS STOP (8 PM ET) This is a film that I haven’t seen but am interested to try.  Having recently seen a documentary about Marilyn Monroe and her time at the Actor’s Studio, this film is noted by many to be one of her best instances of acting.  Having only seen Marilyn Monroe in films such as SOME LIKE IT HOT and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, I am excited to see another side of her acting.

January 4th – CHARADE (8 PM ET) Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Walter Matheau with guns, car chases, spies, and money.  This is a fun ride and definitely worth checking out!  The scene with Cary Grant in the shower alone makes the film worthwhile (it’s not what you think it is).  MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY (12 AM ET) Not a film that I have seen, but definitely one that intrigues me.  The description of a young Rudolph Valentino fighting to save a young woman from the smugglers who have kidnapped them grabbed my interest and I will be setting my DVR.

January 5th – HOLIDAY (3 PM ET) Amidst the Lew Ayres celebration is this gem.  This is a terrific movie that pairs Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, as a free-thinking rebel with a snobby fiancé, and her independent sister.  Lew Ayres appears as Hepburn’s brother whose sadness and frustration with his empty life manifest in drinking.  This is a movie with a soul and a point of view…and it is directed by George Cukor!  MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (8 PM ET) No, this isn’t the Adam Sandler film.  This is the original Frank Capra movie starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur.  A tale of a small town poet dealing with newfound wealth and big city corruption, a great story and worth seeing.  MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (2:15 AM ET) Whenever I watch this film I feel a great sense of civic pride.  Another Frank Capra film, this one showcases Jimmy Stewart as a small town Senate replacement who takes on corruption with Jean Arthur.

January 6th – EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE (3:30 PM ET) Warren William is the boss of a department store who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants, especially from Loretta Young.  Pre-code goodness abounds!  HEROES FOR SALE (5 PM ET) This is a film I have previously recapped and it is one that I highly recommend.  Watch it for Loretta Young but stay for Richard Barthlemess, Aline MacMahone, and the great story directed by William Wellman.

January 9th – I’LL BE SEEING YOU (9 AM ET) I loved this film when I watched it during the holiday season.  It is a too little known gem and one that I strongly urge you to see.  Starring Joseph Cotten and Ginger Rogers, this is one of the first films to deal with the subject of PTSD among WWII veterans.  It is a truly wonderful film and if you missed it during December, here is your chance to catch it again!

January 10th – FOR THE DEFENSE (6 AM ET) Another pre-code film, this one stars William Powell as an attorney specializing in helping underworld criminals get out of jail.  When his girlfriend drunkenly kills a man while out driving, he is faced with a moral dilemma because another man steps forward to take the blame.  A different role for William Powell and a great film.

January 11th – THE MALTESE FALCON (12 PM ET) Humphrey Bogart in one of his most iconic roles.  Directed by John Huston, co-starring Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor, this is a classic that needs to be seen!  Bogart will always be Sam Spade to me.

January 13th – IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD (2:15 PM ET) A film from W.S. Van Dyke and Ben Hecht, starring Jimmy Stewart as a PI framed for murder who escapes from prison and Claudette Colbert as a runaway poetess who is helping him to clear his name.  I watched this years ago after buying it from the Warner Archive and really enjoyed it.  I’m excited to be able to catch this unique screwball comedy again!

January 21st – FEMALE (10:15 AM ET) Ruth Chatterton stars as a woman executive of a car company who uses men the way other men use women.  George Brent stars as a young executive who challenges her life view.  Another great pre-code movie!

January 22nd – TROUBLE IN PARADISE (6:45 AM ET) Ernst Lubitsch directs Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall in this film about two thieves who find themselves in a love triangle with their intended victim.  Interestingly enough, this film is being shown on the very day that I am writing a blog entry about it for the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon!  Stay tuned!

January 29th – HAUNTED HONEYMOON (12:15PM ET) Robert Montgomery is British detective Sir Peter Wimsey, who finds his wedding celebration cut short after a man is found murdered in his honeymoon cottage.  Call that a mood killer or what!  I had heard of the Dorothy L Sayers literary character of Sir Peter Wimsey, and I love Robert Montgomery, so I am excited to see how he translates to the silver screen.

These are just some of the great offerings coming this month from TCM!  If there are any other films you think I should recommend in January let me know in the comments!