Monday, November 16, 2015

The Criterion Blogathon: Rebecca (1940)


Rebecca (1940) was Alfred Hitchcock's first film made in America, after he and his family migrated from England a t the start of WWII. While many claim his films from the 1960s are unsurpassed, it is his films from the 40s and early 50s that are my personal favorites.

Rebecca gripped me from the opening shot to the very end. The story famously begins with the voice of Joan Fontaine (who is only known as the second Mrs. de Winter throughout the film) telling the story of Rebecca. It begins with the now well known line "I dreamed I went to Manderley again," and the equally well known shot going through the overgrown gate and up the path with the camera's gaze finally resting on the shadowy, burnt structure of what was once the imposing MANDERLEY.


Manderley is the ancestral home of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Rebecca, who gives her name as the title of the film and is an unseen force throughout, was his first wife and Manderley had been their home. Rebecca however, drowned one day during a storm. Everyone says that Mr. de Winter was inconsolable, as they had been a model couple, envied by all. Therefore, when he falls in love with the naïve, shy, and awkward girl companion of American tourist Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates), those who know him have great difficulty in accepting her, as Rebecca is irreplaceable to them. When Mr. de Winter arrives with his new bride, she is met with a coldness that seems impossible to break. Not only do the people not accept her, but Manderley doesn't accept her. Everywhere there are signs of Rebecca, her bedroom which is kept exactly the way it was when she died, the monogrammed desk supplies in the office, the mysterious boathouse that she is not allowed to go in to. Manderley is so much a part of the film that it too becomes a character. You can almost feel the house breathing, pushing this newcomer, this intruder out of its rooms. It is inexplicably tied up with Rebecca and cannot be separated from her. It is as if when Rebecca died she became Manderley (the only other house I can think of that feels like a character is Downton Abbey).


Not only is the house against her but it's housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, portrayed with an intense and chilling creepiness by Judith Anderson, is also against her, doing everything she can to make her miserable, constantly reminding her that she is NOT the mistress of the house, nor is she a fit wife and companion for Mr. de Winter. Mrs. Danvers love for Rebecca and her hatred for Fontaine comes out in these exchanges:

Mrs. Danvers: You wouldn't think she'd been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn't mistake it anywhere. It's not only in this room, it's in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now. [Looks at Fontaine] Do you think the dead come back and watch the living? Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn't come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. 

 
Mrs. Danvers: [as Fontaine runs into the room] I watched you go down just as I watched her a year ago. Even in the same dress you couldn't compare.

Fontaine: You knew it! You knew that she wore it, and yet you deliberately suggested I wear it. Why do you hate me? What have I done to you that you should ever hate me so?

Mrs. Danvers: You tried to take her place. You let him marry you. I've seen his face - his eyes. They're the same as those first weeks after she died. I used to listen to him, walking up and down, up and down, all night long, night after night, thinking of her, suffering torture because he lost her!

Fontaine: [turning away in shame and shock] I don't want to know, I don't want to know!

Mrs. Danvers: [moving towards her] You thought you could be Mrs. de Winter, live in her house, walk in her steps, take the things that were hers! But she's too strong for you. You can't fight her - no one ever got the better of her. Never, never. She was beaten in the end, but it wasn't a man, it wasn't a woman. It was the sea!

Fontaine: [collapsing in tears on the bed] Oh, stop it! Stop it! Oh, stop it!

Mrs. Danvers: [opening the shutters] You're overwrought, madam. I've opened a window for you. A little air will do you good. Why don't you go? Why don't you leave Manderley? He doesn't need you... he's got his memories. He doesn't love you, he wants to be alone again with her. You've nothing to stay for. You've nothing to live for really, have you? [Softly, almost hypnotically] Look down there. It's easy, isn't it? Why don't you? Why don't you? Go on. Go on. Don't be afraid...

 
While at first it seems that she is completely losing it, as the true story of Rebecca unfolds, Fontaine's character becomes more sure of herself, culminating in the moment when she tells Mrs. Danvers, "I am Mrs. de Winter now." This is completed when Manderley is burned to the ground, freeing the couple from the ghost of Rebecca once and for all (I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil the film for those who haven't yet seen it).

Creepy Mrs. Danvers

The film is unique in that the character that is never seen dominates it and the character that is doesn't even have a name. While the viewer is getting to know Fontaine's character as she is getting to know herself, you feel like you already know Rebecca, even if the other characters in the film have been fooled by her.

Full movie

The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Fontaine was nominated as Best Actress but lost to Ginger Rogers for her role in Kitty Foyle. The following year she won an Oscar for Suspicion, her second film with Hitchcock. Many believe that it was really for Rebecca that she won. The film also won Best black and white Cinematography and was nominated for Best Actor (Olivier), Best Supporting Actress (Judith Anderson), Best Director (Hitchcock lost to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath), and Best Screenplay, Art Direction, Editing, Special Effects, and Original Score (Franz Waxman). And if Rebecca had been a real person she would have won an award as well.

Manderley in all it's Gothic glory.
 
This post is part of the Criterion Blogathon hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy, and Silver Screenings. Click here to see the full breakdown for the week and be sure to read the other posts (not all 200 of course).
 
 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Charles Coburn: The Scene Stealer

 Charles Coburn has become one of my favorite character actors ever since I saw him in The More the Merrier. He is definitely a scene stealer in that movie and won his first Oscar for his role as a business executive playing matchmaker to Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea. If you haven't seen the film yet I highly suggest you order a copy immediately.

Charles Coburn is a scene stealer in most of the films I've seen him in. He is also one of the few character actors to receive star billing in some of his films. He appeared in 70 films and was in numerous television shows, as well as continuing in theatre, which he began in 1901 at the age of 24. He did not get into movies however, until after the death of his wife, Ivah Wills (who appeared in many plays with him and with whom he had six children) in 1937 (he had appeared in two films before that but did not sign a contract until after her death). For a man who didn't start making films until he was 60 and who worked until his death in 1961 at the age of 86, his filmography is very impressive. Read a brief biography of him here.

Known for wearing a monocle (which corrected an eye deficiency - "No point having two window panes where one will do"), and being a well spoken Southern gentlemen, he was usually cast as a man of wealth and importance, whether it be as Judge, Doctor, Captain, Lord, General, Colonel, Professor, Sir, Chancellor, Inspector, Mayor, or Father. He also played the gruff but kindly uncles, fathers, and grandfathers. In Movie Stars of the '40s: A Complete Reference Guide for the Film Historian or Trivia Buff, he is described as one "who could be delightfully droll, devilishly sly, or downright dangerous."

He always seems as though the part were made for him, as though he were there and not even thinking of acting - which of course demands the best and only true thinking about acting.
~ Otis Ferguson, Critic

What's My Line

And now to highlight some of my favorite of his film appearances:


In Bachelor Mother (1939), Coburn plays the father of David Niven, who is friends with an unwed mother (Ginger Rogers) that works at his store. The truth is though that the baby isn't actually hers. She had witnessed the baby being left on the doorstep of an orphanage and, going over to it and picking it up, was caught holding it when the people working at the orphanage opened the door. No one will believe her story of course, leaving her stuck with the baby. When Charles Coburn finds out about it, he thinks it is his grandson, and is so happy that he finally has an heir that he won't listen to anyone's story that contradicts the one he wants to believe. Coburn's scenes with the baby are wonderful and sprinkled with great lines like, "I don't care who the father is, I'm the grandfather!" and "Is there something I can do?" (Rogers), "You've done it!" (Coburn holding baby). There's a great scene near the end where both Niven and Rogers get someone to pretend he is the father of the child, and not Niven. The problem is they both bring him to see Coburn at the same time. Coburn merely smiles in contentment, believing even more that the child is his grandson. You can read more about the film here.

Bachelor Mother will be airing on TCM December 24 at 10:30am EST.


The Lady Eve (1941) finds Coburn as a cardsharp father to Barbara Stanwyck. Their target: Henry Fonda. Stanwyck really dominates this picture but Coburn has some memorable lines. You can read more about the film here. Also, watch the TCM The Essentials Intro here.

Don't be vulgar, Jean. Let us be crooked, but never common.
 
Ah, there you are. Well, it certainly took you long
enough to come back in the same outfit.


The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) has another great performance by Coburn. From TCM: "John P. Merrick, the world's richest man, goes undercover when employees organize for better wages and working conditions at a department store which he owns. Posing as a lowly shoe clerk, he is befriended by fellow clerk Mary (Jean Arthur) and her boyfriend Joe (Robert Cummings), a labor organizer who has just been fired. He also finds a romantic interest in Elizabeth (Spring Byington), a middle-aged employee in the same department. Although initially his goal is to root out the employees behind the unrest at work, his new friends and his firsthand experience as a worker mistreated by management precipitate a change of heart." Coburn does a magnificent job making the "crusty millionaire J. P. Merrick lovable without resorting to excessive sentimentality [and] is a mark of his skill as a comic actor." Coburn received his first Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. The film also has the great character actors Edmund Gwenn and S.Z. Sakall among its cast. You can read more about the film here.

Watch the film here!


George Washington Slept Here (1942) stars Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan as a husband and wife who have just purchased a somewhat ramshackle home (the house from Arsenic and Old Lace) that, as the title states, was one of the many places where George Washington slept during the Revolutionary War. Coburn plays Sheridan's rich Uncle Stanley, comes to visit them in their new home. When they ask him for money towards fixing up the house, he confesses that he isn't actually rich and just pretended to be so that his relatives would be nice to him! You can read more about the film here and here.


The More the Merrier (1943) is, as mentioned above, Coburn's best role, hence the Oscar. My favorite moment in the film is when he and McCrea are going back to their apartment, which they share with Arthur due to the housing shortage in Washington DC, after sunbathing on the roof. Coburn pretends to shoot some kids with a machine gun, and they pretend to  die by falling off the wall they are sitting on. It looks so natural, as if it were unscripted. You can't help but think that Coburn would make an awesome grandpa.


Another great scene is when Coburn gets locked out of the apartment. He climbs out of the hall window of the apartment house and raps on the bathroom window, scaring Jean Arthur to death. You can read more about the film here.


In Heaven Can Wait (1943), Coburn plays the grandfather of Don Ameche, a spoiled rich kid turned skirt chaser. Coburn realizes that his grandson is very much like him and helps him steal his cousin Albert's fiancée (Gene Tierney) and, when the marriage gets a little shaky, to win back his wife. You can read more about the film here.
Albert, I'm struggling successfully against the gout, I'm waging a terrific battle with my liver, and I'm holding my own against asthma, but I doubt if I have strength enough to survive your jokes. You're a successful lawyer. Let it go at that.
Heaven Can Wait will be airing on TCM December 12 at 10pm EST. You can also watch it here.


Princess O'Rourke (1943) is about a princess (Olivia de Havilland) visiting America and falling in love with an airline pilot (Robert Cummings). Coburn is her uncle who is trying to help her find a husband that she can produce a male heir. When he discovers that she has fallen in love with a commoner, he begins to find out all he can about this young man. When he discovers that Cummings comes from a family of nine boys, and his father "one of eleven," he calls the king and gets permission for de Havilland and Cummings to marry. The best scene is when Coburn talks to de Havilland about the possibility of her marrying an American (he hasn't told her yet that he knows about Cummings and has already received the king's approval). You can read more about the film here.
"One of nine boys. Extraordinary. His father one of eleven!"
         

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952) has Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie top-billed but the film definitely belongs to Coburn. He has decided that when he dies he wants to leave his fortune to the daughter and grandchildren of the woman he almost married in his youth. He moves in with the family and has the check delivered anonymously to see how they react. He is a delight to watch the entire film. Where else can you see Coburn dance like this?!


You can watch the film here (look for a brief appearance by James Dean around the 30 min. mark)!


In Trouble Along the Way (1953) Coburn is Father Burke, the head of a financially failing, all-male university. He decides to hire John Wayne, a once famous coach with a problem of his own, to build up the football team and therefore increase enrollment. Due to script differences between Wayne and the director, the film did not do well at the box office. Coburn's performance however, as the ever optimistic priest makes the film worth watching. The film also stars Donna Reed as a social worker and Sherry Jackson (Make Room For Daddy) as Wayne's daughter.


In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, Coburn plays Sir Francis "Piggy" Beekman, a role completely different from Father Burke. He owns a diamond mine, and Lorelei (Monroe) just loves diamonds. They are caught alone in a cabin together by the detective Lorelei's fiancée hired to keep an eye on her. You can read more about it here and here.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be airing on TCM December 21 at 8pm EST.

Charles Coburn films on YouTube (click on title):

Made For Each Other (1939) - Carole Lombard & James Stewart

Three Faces West (1940) - John Wayne

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) - Jean Arthur & Robert Cummings

Heaven Can Wait (1943) - Don Ameche & Gene Tierney

Colonel Effingham's Raid (1946) - Charles Coburn (lead role) & Joan Bennett. "As the star of Colonel Effingham's Raid he [Coburn] got to display more range than usual, grandly expounding in the scenes in which he celebrates his military heritage but also showing a more vulnerable side when he thinks he's lost the battle." You can read about it here.

Green Grass of Wyoming (1948) - Peggy Cummins, Coburn is second billed

Impact (1949) - Brian Donlevy & Ella Raines

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952) - Rock Hudson & Piper Laurie


This post is part of the annual What a Character! Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. The Blogathon has been moved to next weekend but I am posting mine early. Be sure and check out the other entries celebrating these great actors and actresses without whom movies could not be made.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembering Betsy Drake


I was saddened to learn today that Betsy Drake (born 9-11-23 in France) died October 27th in London at the age of 92. The third wife of Cary Grant (her first and only spouse), she appeared in nine films, two of which were with Grant, and had two television appearances.

     

From The Hollywood Reporter:
Drake met Grant in August 1949 when both were aboard the Queen Mary on a trip back to the U.S. from England. Grant, 20 years her senior, had seen her in London as the lead in a production of Elia Kazan’s Deep Are the Roots, and he asked actress Merle Oberon to arrange an introduction. (Elizabeth Taylor and her mother also were on the boat at the time.)
They were married on Christmas Day 1949 in an Arizona farmhouse in a ceremony that was arranged by Grant’s best man, millionaire Howard Hughes.
Grant, a big star at RKO Radio Pictures, asked the studio to put Drake under contract, and she was his leading lady in Every Girl Should Be Married (1948) and Room for One More (1952).
Drake also wrote the original screenplay for Houseboat (1958), which she was supposed to star in with Grant but was replaced with Sophia Loren. They separated in 1958 and divorced in 1962, remaining friends until Grant's death in 1986.

With Grace Kelly (whose birthday is tomorrow)

More from the article:
Drake was born in in Paris in 1923 to wealthy parents — her grandfather had built Chicago’s Drake Hotel — but the 1929 stock market crash sent the family reeling, and she spent her childhood being shuttled among relatives on the East Coast.
She took up acting, and Kazan selected her as one of the founding members of the Actors Studio in New York.
Drake also appeared in such films as Dancing in the Dark (1949), The Second Woman (1950), Pretty Baby (1950), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) and Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965).
In 1956, Drake and actress Ruth Roman were among the passengers rescued from the sinking Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria.
In Every Girl Should Be Married (1948), her first film, Drake plays Anabel Sims, a girl that just wants to get married. You can read TCM's article on the film here.


In Room For One More (1952), Grant and Drake play a couple that take in two difficult foster children and with lots of love help them become part of a family. You can read more about it on TCM here.  Room For One More airs on TCM on Nov. 27 at 1:30pm EST and again on Dec. 25 at 12am.

 
Here are a couple screenshots I took while watching Room For One More. This is their bedroom. Isn't it pretty? I love window seats and fireplaces in bedrooms.
 

 
Betsy Drake films on YouTube:
The Second Woman (1950)
Intent To Kill (1958)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Grace Kelly & Edith Head: A Perfect Fashion Marriage


If I had to pick a favorite actress (which I don't really like to do, but people always want to know), it would be Grace Kelly.
So says Edith Head, in a quote from her unfinished biography which was completed by Paddy Calistro and became Edith Head's Hollywood (see sources below for more information). She goes on to say: "We don't have many great women stars anymore, but in the 1950s Grace was tops. She was an ex-model and she knew how to wear clothes."

Edith liked to build relationships with the stars she dressed. She wanted them to be comfortable and happy and she worked closely with them to ensure this. "Sometimes she [Kelly] would come into my salon with her lunch and the two of us would talk and laugh for hours at a time. It was always a pleasure to see her kick off her shoes and relax...she felt safe in my salon, as if it was a quiet refuge from the studio commissary" (Head, 108-109).


Edith Head dressed Grace Kelly in four films. The first film they worked on together was in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). Edith remembers, "Grace was cast as a high-society type, so her part called for an extremely stylish wardrobe. Hitch wanted her to look like a piece of Dresden china, something slightly untouchable. So I did that. Her suits were impeccably tailored. Her accessories looked as though they couldn't be worn by anyone else but her. She was perfect. Few actresses could have carried off the look the way Grace did (Head, 109). When people think of Grace Kelly, it is usually wearing one of the costumes (of which there were only six) from this film - either THAT black and white gown or THAT green suit.

 
      

 
 
To see some of the dresses in action click here (clip 1, 3, 4, & 10) and here.

The next film was The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) which "wasn't really a costume picture" and of which Grace only appeared in for a whopping 15 minutes. Following that was The Country Girl (1954) which Edith was excited to be assigned to - until she read the script: "The character had absolutely no resemblance to Grace Kelly. I put her in housedresses and skirts and blouses, and made her look dumpy (Head, 108). However, Grace ended up winning an Oscar (more on THAT dress later) for her role in the film as "a woman who had been married for ten years and has lost interest in... everything" (Spoto, 155).
 
          
 
 
Their next collaboration (and final film together) was To Catch a Thief (1955). "When people ask me [Head] who my favorite actress is, who my favorite director is, and what my favorite film is, I tell them to watch To Catch a Thief and they'll get all the answers. The film was a costume designer's dream. It had all the ingredients for being fun, a challenge, and a great product... Grace played the part of possibly the richest woman in America, with the most fabulous clothes and the most fabulous jewels" (Head,109). Filmed on location in the south of France, the film has a broad spectrum of costumes, from a bathing suit to a driving outfit to a ridiculously fabulous ball gown. Edith and Grace also enjoyed several shopping trips together while in the fashion capitol of the world.

 
You can purchase a replica of this gown here.
 
      
 

 

           

 
 
 
When the 1955 Academy Awards rolled around, Grace of course was in need of something to wear. At the time, Grace was under suspension at MGM and when she went to the studio to discuss her outfit for the Awards was told she was she was unwelcome. Grace just "smiled, adjusted her white gloves and asked if she could make a telephone call" (Spoto, 195). Of course it was Edith whom Grace called and though Edith had several obligations to fulfill, she set aside time to help Grace. Together they designed a "slim, floor-length aquamarine gown of French duchesse satin with a matching cloak and pastel blue slippers. White opera-length gloves completed the outfit" (Spoto, 196). Grace was also featured on the cover of Life magazine a few days later wearing the same dress.

         

A little over a month later, Grace would meet for the first time with Prince Rainier of Monaco and on April 19, 1956 they were married in what was described as "the wedding of the century." Though Edith hoped she would be asked to design Grace's wedding gown, Grace asked Helen Rose, costume designer of her home studio, MGM (she also did the costumes in High Society - 1956). Instead, Edith designed Grace's going-away suit as a gift from Paramount. The suit was light gray silk and "was topped with a white overcoat and worn with a tiny white hat and long white gloves.


 
 
 

Nearly all of the costumes Edith designed for Grace Kelly have become iconic and synonymous with the epitome of glamour. Their collaborations will always be remembered in the history of film fashion and continue to inspire the dresses that the stars of today wear on the red carpet. Some of them have even been immortalized as Barbie Doll fashions. There was truly something perfect about those dresses. It was indeed a perfect fashion marriage.

Wedding gown (Helen Rose), dress worn to meet Prince Rainier, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief.
 
                
Diane Kruger in Grace Kelly inspired gowns

Sources:

Spoto, Donald. High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly. Harmony Books, NY. 2009.

Head, Edith & Paddy Calistro. Edith Head's Hollywood. E. P. Dutton, Inc., NY. 1983.

This post is part of The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon (in honor of her birthday) by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Be sure and read all of the other posts celebrating this iconic actress!