Essential: THE TAMARIND SEED (1974)

Part 1 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.08.08 PM.jpeg

TB: For our fifth and final week on British crime flicks, we are looking at the 1974 movie THE TAMARIND SEED. Star Julie Andrews had been off screen for four years, and this was heralded as a comeback of sorts. She would take a longer break after this, and have another comeback in 1979 with 10. These films, of course, were written and directed by Andrews’ husband Blake Edwards. If you haven’t seen THE TAMARIND SEED, it should be said upfront that her character Judith Farrow isn’t very much like Mary Poppins or Maria Von Trapp. Though Andrews is still playing a very likable woman in this cold war espionage drama.

JL: I have not read Evelyn Anthony’s book that this was adapted from, but I suspect some alterations were done to make it a better vehicle for Andrews, especially since Edwards was behind the camera and audiences were less enthusiastic for her vamp role in DARLING LILI than they were to the more wholesome Poppins and Von Trapp. However I also remember reading a comment of hers stating that she got pretty frustrated by this time with so many thinking she sported daisies “down under,” so this is why her later roles tended to be more along the lines of the popular Jane Fondas and Julie Christies of the period and, at least once, she dared to go topless.

JL: Julie Andrews wasn’t doing much on the big screen during the seventies, though she stayed active on the small screen, most notably with her participation in opening Walt Disney World in Florida and twice singing with the Muppets. Therefore a film appearance like this was a rare treat for this era. As the credits roll, a close-up of her face is shown first, before Omar Sharif, to emphasize her being away too long.

Julie Andrews & Omar Sharif

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.13.55 PM.jpeg

TB: What do you think about the character she’s playing? And about the characer Sharif is playing?

JL: The character of Judith Farrow, British Home Office assistant, had an affair with a married Captain Richard Patterson (David Baron)…and we are lead to believe that it started after her husband died, but are we really that sure? After all, she admitted she wasn’t in love with him before he was consumed in a fiery car crash over a cliff. Yet we need this storyline because she later seeks Patterson for help and this prompts the wife (Carol Bannerman) to eavesdrop on their phone call. Also we need to understand the “why” of a Julie Andrews “type” allowing Omar’s married Feodor Sverdlov to both woo her and admit he is a womanizer away from his wife.

screen-shot-2019-05-26-at-1.31.21-pm.jpeg

TB: Omar Sharif exudes charisma, doesn’t he! He and Andrews share a palpable chemistry. I’d read somewhere that he often had affairs with his leading ladies. But because Andrews’ husband is in charge and continually present, I would expect that Sharif and Andrews did not carry on once the camera stopped rolling. So I think that adds to the romantic tension here, especially since Feodor does want to take Judith to bed and the consummation of the characters’ relationship is considerably delayed (until the third act of the movie).

JL: To his credit, Feodor does insist that Judith is different than the others and, like George Lazenby’s Bond with Diana Rigg (ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE), he seems ready to settle down and be faithful for a change. This keeps Omar on his proper Zhivago footing by not only having him play a Russian who doesn’t get along with his government but also one who is ready to stay focused on just one Lara.

Comparisons with other films

TB: Before I re-watched the film, you told me that you thought it reminded you of CHARADE. So let’s go over some comparisons with CHARADE. Also the Bond films from the 60s and early 70s, since I think it shares similarities with those productions as well.

JL: Stanley Donen’s CHARADE, made a decade earlier, was very Hitch-inspired and this film invites plenty of comparison. For me, the comparisons are more about the overall story arch of a romantic pair in which the woman isn’t completely sure of her man’s honesty at first and the overall chemistry of the pair. Plus Julie Andrews often competed for the same roles as Audrey Hepburn (most obviously, MY FAIR LADY) since both actresses have a certain refinement and are showcased in stylish wardrobes.

TB: Yes, I must interject briefly. We are told in the opening credit sequence that the wardrobe for this movie is provided by Dior. And the leads are very stylishly presented in this picture. So are most of the supporting players. What about the casting of Andrews and Sharif? Obviously Andrews could have had her choice of any leading man for this film.

JL: Key difference here are the ages: Julie is 37 here (filming started in May 1973) while Omar Sharif was only three and a half years older, unlike Audrey being 33 and co-star Cary Grant turning 59 in 1962-63. Then again, Omar’s hair is quite gray here, perhaps done on purpose.

On-location filming

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.12.25 PM.jpeg

TB: I’d like to mention the on-location filming, which I think gives this film something extra. In a way, the film sort of functions as a glossy travelogue. The Bond films move much more quickly without a lot of rumination about the surroundings. But the pace of this story is a bit more leisure, so there’s time to linger on the locales a bit more, which I love.

JL: Even without as much on-your-seat’s-edge 007 suspense, we get a lot of 007-ish locales: Paris, London, Barbados especially… also some hilly country posing as Canada. Cinematographer Freddie Young had an impressive career stretching back to the twenties with a special emphasis on action films from THE 49TH PARALLEL, Walt Disney’s TREASURE ISLAND, MGM’s first CinemaScope swashbucklers, one 007 outing (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) as well as two key David Lean epics: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA with an Arab Omar Sharif and DR. ZHIVAGO with a Russian Omar Sharif like Feodor here.

TB: Tomorrow JLewis and I continue our conversation about THE TAMARIND SEED. We discuss the cinematography a bit, and we also focus on the film’s superb supporting players. Please be sure to join us…

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 4.07.23 PM.jpeg

Part 2 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.06.52 PM.jpeg

TB: Okay, when we left off yesterday, we were going over the cinematography. Anything else you’d like to add about that?

JL: Well, with cinematographer Freddie Young, we are seeing a master at the peak of his career with everybody in flawless focus, great panoramas of blistering clouds in the horizons and intricate shots of people through windows… indicating that everybody here is constantly being watched. Regardless of how pretty the landscape and how far away you think you are from your troubles, you are never alone.

TB: I thought the film really came alive during the petrol bomb sequence. I liked how the Russian men were carrying a crate of beer bottles, with the explosives cleverly concealed. And I liked the small boat exploding as one of them tried to get away. That section was a nail biter. And it wouldn’t have been as good as it was without Young’s visual sense of how the action should be photographed. And despite the pandemonium that ensues, we still have Andrews’ character at the center of it. She’s a survivor.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.18.19 PM.jpeg

JL: It is interesting to note that Judith is the one key character not smoking, perhaps because she is not so nervous about having so much to hide. Of course, we have the usual cigarette lighters that are not really cigarette lighters.

TB: Oh, but we don’t want to spoil too much about the cigarette lighter used by Stephenson (Dan O’Herlihy). Let’s discuss O’Herlihy’s character and the subplot with his wife (Sylvia Syms). Syms had previously played this type of material in VICTIM, albeit differently.

Dan O’Herlihy

JL: Dan O’Herlihy’s Fergus Stephenson is a very important character here since he is doing the opposite of Feodor, a Brit establishing contact with the communists and, therefore, becomes a key asset for Feodor when he and Judith confront Jack Loder (Anthony Quayle), the Brit Intelligence officer. In addition to being a commie, he is also accused by his wife Margaret for being gay… and he’s not exactly denying it either. However we never see him do anything on screen. But she needs an excuse to carry on an affair with George MacLeod (Bryan Marshall) who is an assistant to Jack and making good use of her pillow talk to learn more about her husband.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.24.58 PM.jpeg

TB: At times I found the Stephensons to be more interesting than our main couple, Judith and Feodor. While Judith and Feodor are struggling to trust each other in the early phases of a relationship, the Stephensons are struggling to trust each other in the later phases of a relationship. And I think the Stephensons have much more baggage.

JL: This subplot, for me, felt rather dated for two key reasons. First, many gay men (not so much lesbians) were canned from government jobs in the 1950s in particular because they were widely believed to be the ones most guilty of communist influenced black mail.

TB: Yes. I haven’t read the source material, but I wondered if the book had been written much earlier, regardless of when it was published. Because it did seem to suggest some narrow views about homosexuals being communists. Though I did not exactly think Mr. Stephenson was as sexually active as his wife. And as we saw in the film, her dalliances compromised them more than his did.

JL: Women were frequently suspecting their husbands and male lovers were gay simply because they weren’t good at “performance”. This even became a joke with slang terms and the nearly always used F-word in such vintage comedies and dramas made just before THE TAMARIND SEED such as LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS. We look back at these films as time capsules of “the way we were” and remember that, even as late as 1973-74. homosexuality was only just starting to get removed from medical journals as a “disease.”

Sylvia Syms

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.55.37 PM.jpeg

TB: Thoughts about Syms as an actress?

JL: She is actually brilliant in her small role and deserved her British Oscar. I had temporarily forgotten her similar role in VICTIM, that being a more sympathetic film. This may explain why she plays her character as only mildly upset about him being gay (since they still had three children now grown up and she is getting what she wants with George) but is far more upset about him being a traitor to their country. This very emotional acting scene by her pulls all the stops.

TB: I see Mrs. Stephenson as a Lady MacBeth, and her husband obviously as MacBeth. And I do think that Syms and O’Herlihy nailed it. I especially love the scene after she learns he’s a traitor. She’s had her big outburst in the bedroom. But now she’s had time to think. And she’s calmer, cooler. She goes into the den to tell him she’s not going to let him compromise their chances of being put in charge of an embassy. She’s very cold-blooded at this point and says she’s calling the shots. Though of course they will work together. This is followed by scenes with them in a car later on, where she learns more about how he communicates with the Russians. So ironically, the Stephensons become more of a team, more solidified in their corruption.

JL: Yes, I found the Stephensons far more engrossing than the Patersons and those two friends of Feodor, she not knowing any Russian apart from curse words even though they are needed to move the plots along. Although I think the movie did cut down their importance from the book in order to prevent the movie from getting too long. For example, I did not understand all of the fainting over pregnancy business.

TB: Well obviously the fainting scene was a plot device, so Mrs. Stephenson could find out that her husband’s identity as a traitor may soon be revealed by Feodor. Mrs. Paterson had to innocently pass that nugget of info on to Mrs. Stephenson. What I realized about these scenes is that are stretches of the narrative where Judith and Feodor are off screen, and the supporting cast takes over and they propel the action forward. In that regard, it’s a very well-balanced movie where everyone in the cast has something important to do, to contribute to the overall arc of the story. I have a feeling Edwards improved on the novel in these specific areas. What we get in this movie is really a bunch of characters that are playing one big game with each another.

Oskar Homolka as the Russian general

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.14.44 PM.jpeg

JL: Oskar Homolka, who plays General Golitsyn, was a great actor who deserves mentioning here. Did a bit of homework on him. I now finally recognize him for his boisterous role as Uncle Chris in I REMEMBER MAMA and he often played “heavies”. He is uber confident in everything he does on screen.

TB: Yes, I love the old Russian general and the stooges he places in the Paris office, because that adds intrigue to the movie. And Homolka is very good in what is basically an extended cameo. Let’s go over a few other tidbits…like thoughts on the cold war, on espionage in the mid-70s, superpower relations, etc.

JL: This was released at a time when there was some gradual thawing of the Cold War despite Vietnam still factoring, although the situation would increase in intensity by the early 1980s again. As a result, I felt that this movie might have worked a bit better had it been set in an earlier time period, if just a decade earlier like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, rather than the seventies. Yet it still seems somewhat realistic in part.

What are tamarind seeds?

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.22.16 PM.jpeg

TB: What did you think about the title and what it means?

JL: The tamarind seed is one the two leads discover in a museum. Long ago in Barbados, a slave was hung on a tree and seeds shaped like a face confirmed his post-death innocence. A seed pops up in an envelope twice in this movie to confirm Feodor’s honesty with Judith. This includes his comments just before a major explosion when he says there is a “good omen ahead” when the music playing on the radio matches the same “we will swoon the night away” they danced to earlier. Of course, they reappear at a key moment in the finale.

TB: I think the story of the tamarind seed is really a comment on Judith’s belief system. A few times Feodor gently mocks her, telling her they won’t find a tamarind tree when they go searching for one. But of course they do, or else she wouldn’t have received those seeds. Like seeds of truth. Also, since Edwards adapted the book and wrote the screenplay, and since he knew his leading lady better than anyone, I think some of Feodor’s dialogue were his own thoughts about his wife, her beliefs, and her overall sincerity. In that regard, some of the movie seems like a rumination on the Andrews-Edwards partnership.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.23.14 PM.jpeg

Final thoughts

TB: Anything else you’d like to discuss?

JL: Just a few other “seeds” of interest…All of the talk of colors is interesting. “Red” obviously suggests “the party” and I particularly like the rather close (if throwaway and possibly unintentional) shot of bright red luggage in an airport scene on the conveyor belt as Feodor stages a careful transfer of planes. There are discussions about fashions that include red ties being taboo in the west during certain time frames and not in others and a Russian empress who loved pink so much that she refused to allow other women to wear it. “True blue” is Judy’s sense of British loyalty. In his conversation with Jack Loder, Feodore glances at Judith as he discusses another spy who is code named “blue”, somehow relating the color to her. Jack responds “You give us blue and we will see you safe and snug for the rest of your life.”

TB: Which of course is what happens.

JL: One particularly enjoyable scene that makes little sense to me but is still enjoyable involves Judith talking to Jack at a zoo and a tiger pacing a very confining cage. Obviously this is an important scene because the editors splice it right after the elevator “cage” that Feodor departs with his secret information. I guess one point made here is that he too is trapped in a cage, but why a tiger as a symbol? Is this supposed to suggest how Judith views him since they hadn’t (at this point) had sex yet?

When they finally do, she has her repeating dream of her husband’s death in a fiery car. He insists it is just a nightmare as he calms her under the covers. He is very honest with her…so should she stop dreaming it? After all, she didn’t love her husband in the same way as Feodor.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.27.25 PM.jpeg

TB: I interpreted it to mean that would be the last time she had that dream. Her recurring nightmare was now over. The final scene, where they reunite in Canada, leaves little doubt that they are on track and will continue this relationship, despite living in two separate countries.

THE TAMARIND SEED may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: SAPPHIRE (1959)

TB: This weekend, we’re going to do things a bit differently. First Jlewis is going to share a detailed review he wrote about SAPPHIRE…then I will share a few of my observations about the film.

***

Part 1 of 2

JL: The most important scenes in this movie, for me, are those right before and after the opening credits and at the end just before “The End.”

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.18.34 PM.jpeg

In the beginning, a woman’s face is shown… dead, with blood from her mouth. After we get through the credits, a toy ball rolls towards it and one of two girls comes to retrieve it. She and her sister are speechless when confronting the corpse. Their mother arrives and screams in shock. This scene is vitally important because they are not the only mother-with-two-daughters featured in this movie.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.22.31 PM.jpeg

Before the final end credits, Inspector Learoyd (Michael Craig) compliments the head police investigator Hazard (a most unusual name, played by Nigel Patrick) on finally solving the murder of Sapphire, the woman whose corpse was showcased. His response is “We did not solve anything. We just picked up the pieces.” That, for me, is a rather powerful statement to end a movie.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.24.47 PM.jpeg

In-between we learn who Sapphire was, with just a photograph of her alive (and very happy)…dancing with a partner whose side of the picture is torn off. We learn more about her when we meet her brother (Earl Cameron), who surprises those investigating with his appearance. You see, like Sarah Jane in the newer version of Imitation Of Life, which preceded this by just a few months, Saphhire was biracial and passing for “white” so she could have better advantages in life. While Sarah Jane was humiliated by her boyfriend when he learned the truth, Sapphire was lucky in that her boyfriend (Paul Massie) accepted her. Only his family (Yvonne Mitchell, Bernard Miles, Olga Lindo) did not, and they were in a state of shock. Plus she was three months pregnant at the time of her death.

I saw this British movie, coming from Basil Deardon (who also handled the even more socially influential Victim),  when President Obama was in office and pretty much considered it a relic of an earlier time. Today I think differently due to how much has happened these last few years… or, rather, how much has been exposed that I was not noticing enough. Thus, I agree with Hazard that picking up the pieces is not quite the same as solving anything.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.28.53 PM.jpeg

Obviously this world is not black and white, figuratively speaking. Every one of us has a back story. Every one of us has prejudices about something or somebody due to either the way our parents raised us (cue the mothers and daughters in this movie) or due to personal experiences that impacted us psychologically. Spencer Tracy tells Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner: “I’m sure you know what you’re up against. There will be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled.” Remember too that his character of Matt Drayton was initially among those 100 million before he changed his mind.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.43.15 PM.jpeg

What I like about this movie is that we have no cardboard villains; nobody dressed in white robes and burning crosses like so many ol’ South sagas in vogue during the 1970s and ’80s whom we can point the finger to and say “well, I am at least not like those people.” “Those” people in this film include a very kind landlady who still refuses back payment from the murdered woman’s brother and a seemingly well-educated and highly articulate black man (a very stoic Paul Slade) who had refused to marry this same woman because she wasn’t 100% his race either.

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 7.11.16 AM.jpg

Ironically he and his new girlfriend ride a very white sport-car, which was clearly an intentional visual reference showcasing how people of all races are more willing to conform to a black vs. white world rather than accept the many shades of gray.

We get a few “red herrings” in this lengthy detective story to distract us. Most notable is a black dancing partner of Sapphire’s at an “international” club named Johnnie (Harry Baird). He is not guilty, but his found knife causes him trouble. The speed with which he becomes a suspect over other Caucasian characters present was a rather provocative statement for its time.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.42.30 PM.jpeg

The message of this movie may be what hooks me in more than its entertainment value. The detective story itself isn’t all that exciting otherwise, especially if you have watched many like it before. Yes, we are surprised by who is found guilty; it does satisfy with its conclusion. However, had this movie been made more recently, I think we would get more out-and-out suspense involved. For example, there is an extended scene of the boyfriend searching for stuff at the scene of the crime and being casually observed by those who aren’t concerned at all if he would notice them noticing him.

Likewise, there is a certain drabness to the visuals (perhaps intentionally?) with the usual abundance of winter coats and hats in the wardrobe, making one wonder why this wasn’t shot in black and white instead of the stock fifties Eastmancolor that tends to make many faces of different racial tones look brown.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.30.57 PM.jpeg

Nonetheless this is still a stellar three and a half star production, if I was to rate it accordingly.

***

Part 2 of 2

screen-shot-2019-05-26-at-1.29.14-pm.jpg

TB: I think Jlewis covered the main points yesterday. First, I agree that the film should have been shot in black and white. Mainly so that when we see the corpse at the beginning she looks less “colored”…as in any color. The way it was filmed it seemed like a Caucasian actress lying on the ground, because even her neck was very white, her skin was too creamy. With black and white cinematography, we wouldn’t be able to tell her race so easily.

There was one line where the boardinghouse owner said she’d never met the brother, only talked to him by telephone. But would he sound white on the phone? I didn’t quite buy that. I do think people of certain cultures exhibit speech patterns indicative of those cultures (that’s why there was a study of Ebonics at one point). Sapphire and her brother were said to have originally been from the West Indies. And when he came to the precinct, he never used phrases that made him seem like a white Englishman…he sounded like a black man from the West Indies. And I think the landlady would have picked up on that over the phone. But it’s a minor point.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.34.32 PM.jpeg

I think the best performer in this picture is Yvonne Mitchell. She actually has the most difficult role to play. We are not really supposed to like her but I think Mitchell does make us like her to some extent, which makes it harder to reconcile her part in Sapphire’s death at the end. I don’t want to see a mother of two torn away from her kids and her husband, going off to prison. But of course that is what will happen, since she must face a consequence and justice must be served.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.27.31 PM.jpeg

I also think we’re supposed to view the white boyfriend’s family as a bunch of narrow-minded bigots, or at least people who do not handle race relations well. Even though Sapphire’s boyfriend did love her and did plan to marry her.

I didn’t feel the pregnancy added anything to the story and question its inclusion. Was it supposed to make us think Sapphire slept around, that she had loose morals? How she was obviously having sex outside of marriage?

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.57.44 PM.png

This story, if made today, would probably be reworked as a plot about a transgender character. Where the family couldn’t accept their son/brother being involved with a transgender male who had passed as female. In that scenario, a potential pregnancy could be a lie…a definite red herring to throw the police off the track at first, thinking the victim was a biological female not originally a biological male and thus unable to give birth.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.54.54 PM.png

What I like most about the story is how one person’s death affects so many people. This event ripples across the landscape and causes many of these characters to re-examine their lives. You do wonder how they can all go forward after this.

***

JL: I think the pregnancy angle did add a little to this. It was hinted that, yes, David was the father on account of nobody else coming forward to being more than a dancing partner or since-a-year-ago boyfriend.

The belief, whether true or not, that is held by multiple characters is that there is no certainty that the child would be as “white” as Daddy. This is why the lines coming from the brother about he and Sapphire looking different a.k.a. “you don’t know which way…” was important as was the focus on twin little girls and the mother clearly favoring children who looked alike. Whether or not it was known by these characters that she was pregnant may not matter since it was assumed she would be someday.  However I do think the film suggested the family knew already (another reason for their, um, concerns about her) even if the screenplay didn’t spell it out.

***

TB: I see what you’re saying. But the pregnancy still doesn’t work for me. Even though the white boyfriend acted like it would have been his child, there was no certainty of it. And he seemed to be more at a loss over Sapphire’s death than over an unborn child’s death. It felt like the filmmakers were just trying to give us more dimensions to Sapphire and thought making her a mother-to-be added another dimension.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 5.04.57 PM.jpeg

Anyway that wraps up our review of SAPPHIRE. Thanks again to Jlewis for joining me. Next week, we will conclude this series with a discussion about the 1974 motion picture THE TAMARIND SEED. Please be sure to join us!

Essential: TIGER BAY (1959)

Part 1 of 2

TB: Two weeks ago Jlewis and I discussed John Mills in the postwar noir THE OCTOBER MAN. Today we’re discussing another film Mills made, more than a decade later. TIGER BAY is interesting, because his daughter Hayley also appears in it. It marks her first major role in a motion picture.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.27.51 AM 2.jpeg

Hayley the tomboy

TB: So let’s start with Hayley. Our initial glimpse of her as Gillie Evans, she’s fighting with a bunch of boys in the streets of her seaside town. We know she’s not like other girls her age. She’s tough! What did you make of her introduction in this film?

JL: It is quite an introduction. She is surprisingly sophisticated for a 12-year old. Maybe too sophisticated since it seems like she will become more than just a “buddy” to Korchinsky (Horst Buchholz), possibly bordering on “lover” even if we don’t see a lot of touching and there’s no kissing. I am not surprised that Disney greatly sanitized Hayley for POLLYANNA in a total 180 degree turnaround. Plus, that character is totally honest while Gillie here is totally dishonest.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.42.49 AM.png

TB: My thought was she’s a tomboy in the introductory scenes of TIGER BAY, probably to contrast with her softening later and becoming more feminine in relation to Korchinsky.

JL: One could start up a whole other conversation in regards to her tomboy persona, complete with trousers and short haircut. During the late fifties and early sixties, such personas were quite fashionable as long as the characters were still young and under-age (i.e. they hadn’t grown up yet and found a man to make a “proper” woman out of her), culminating with Susan Oaks’ supporting role as a Jet member in WEST SIDE STORY and Mary Badham’s Scout in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Gillie the latchkey child

TB: I think screenwriter/producer John Hawkesworth does a good job establishing Hayley’s character Gillie. Her aunt (Megs Jenkins) says right up front that girls wanting to play with bombs and wanting to dress up like gangsters are a disgrace. We also learn she’s a thief and a compulsive liar. Plus a neighbor calls her a little devil. She’s what we’d call unruly, and she’s what we’d call a latchkey child. She has no parents, just the aunt she lives with, and very little supervision. Yet we instantly like her, and so does the killer, Korchinsky. What do you make of that? Is it sympathy for the devil or is there something genuinely good in her, despite her circumstances and rough exterior?

JL: I would say it’s her charming personality that makes us root for her.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 7.27.46 AM.jpeg

Murder!

TB: Let’s address the murder scene which takes place near the beginning of the movie. This is an important scene for a variety of reasons. She hears a fight on the stairway in her rundown apartment building. She goes up and peaks through a mail slot and gets a view of Korchinsky quarreling with his unfaithful girlfriend Anya (Yvonne Mitchell). Voices are raised, Korchinsky finds a gun and he fires it. The murder and subsequent death are properly built up, but it does seem to happen rather quickly. And we are also jolted by the fact we’re observing this crime scene along with Gillie. The editing of the murder scene feels like something in a Hitchcock film. And the close-ups of Gillie’s eyes and the revolver, as well as Korchinsky’s face when he realizes someone is out in the hall– it’s all very powerful. Thoughts on this?

JL: I think this scene is important in how it shows Korchinsky do the killing by accident a.k.a. “I got angry.” We do not see how Dirk Bogarde’s Chris commits murder in THE HUNTED and only meet him when little Robbie does, after the deed; Robbie views him not as a murderer but as a kinder substitute for his abusive stepfather. Was his murder also done in anger and by accident? In this case we know Gillie is in no danger here because of how Gillie’s relationship develops with Korchinsky.

TB: I like how the gunshot was mistaken for the sound of Gillie’s little bombs, which gives us a plausible reason why tenants do not seem to notice at first that a woman was shot and killed. I also like how Gillie tries to run off, but then suddenly wants to get the gun, and then she is discovered by Korchinsky.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.21.40 AM.jpeg

The gun and the lies that follow

JL: Earlier we see the children playing Hopalong Cassidy and cops-and-robbers with toy guns. She too has an obsession with such toys, but wants a real gun and this gets her involved in the murder cover up story.

TB: What is it about movies with kids as eyewitnesses to murder? Does this automatically make for “good drama?”

JL: It’s because children experience the world differently than adults that it makes for a different perspective. As Graham the police investigator explains to Gillie, just because you love somebody, it does not mean they should be exempt in the eyes of the law. Justice must always be served. Like Chris in the previous film, we know that Korchinsky will not get away. This is our lesson we are taught that compensates for all of the shenanigans Gillie commits earlier.

TB: In some ways this film reminds me of THE WINDOW (1949). Where we have young Bobby Driscoll witnessing a murder but nobody believes him since he is a chronic liar. Gillie in this film is also a liar, but the key difference is that she’s lying to cover up the crime.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.25.49 AM.jpeg

JL: What strikes me is how much fibbing Gillie does here. That may be a stretch with reality. We want the police to seek the truth with her since the other adults have no success with her. Do you think this movie would work less effectively had she real parents instead of a workaholic aunt? She gets a pass initially because she has no strong authoritative father until Superintendent Graham (John Mills) steps in. I would even relate Gillie’s lies to the classic conversation in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN between a school teacher and Peggy Ann Garner’s Francie about “stories” still being wonderful as long as you understand the difference.

TB: Tomorrow Jlewis and I continue our discussion of TIGER BAY, with more about the performances from Horst Buchholz and John Mills. Please join us!

Part 2 of 2

TB: Okay, we’re back for the rest of our discussion about TIGER BAY.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.21.19 AM.jpeg

An emotional attachment

TB: It’s interesting how Hawkesworth and director J. Lee Thompson manage to get us to go along with the way Gillie becomes so attached to Korchinsky. We get drawn up into the blossoming friendship between these two characters. Did you find this believable?

JL: Since she witnessed his crime, she is fearful of him at first. Yet, like a moth drawn to a flame (or Bonnie to Clyde), she accepts him soon enough. I should point out an interesting early scene with him pushing a little girl on a swing (and she is of a different race than him, which was interesting in itself). This established that he knows the age differences of people and what is expected in proper behavior between them. He views Gillie as a “girl” even though she views him differently than her same-age “boy” friends. In a key scene later, he tells Gillie that she will understand certain things “when” she becomes a woman despite Gillie knowing quite a bit more than a great many women older than her.

screen-shot-2019-05-26-at-1.28.35-pm.jpeg

TB: I must admit I had a few questions while watching the early portion of the film. Why did she want the gun? Did she really plan to use it? Also, why did she want to protect Korchinsky without really knowing him. Ultimately, I chalked this up to her being attracted to him and liking him. That he was her first real crush, despite the unusual circumstances. What was your take on their relationship, as the story progressed?

JL: Yes, she is attracted to him at first meeting. I should add that the music score gets way too slushy in some of their scenes together, suggesting more romance in scenes where it is not supposed to exist. This is a hodgepodge of different genres, alternating between thriller and family oriented comedy. The music is all over the place in themes, menacing during the suspense, jovial when Gillie is up to no good and, rather bizarrely, getting too “romantically” slushy in her scenes with Korchinsky. They could have toned down that aspect a notch.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.20.29 AM.jpeg

Scenes in the church

TB: I’d like to discuss the church scenes. They’re a riot. She takes a gun into church, sings in the choir, gives another kid one of the bullets from the gun (without anyone seeing this)…then we have Korchinsky show up, since he intends to get the murder weapon back. There is also a quirky bit, after the others have left, where he corners her in a dark storage area, gets the gun back, but takes a moment to pray.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.34.11 AM.jpeg

TB: Then this is followed by her wanting to go to sea with him, since he’s a sailor, and her desire to work on a ship with him. It’s all highly improbable, but it works as black comedy though there is a serious murder investigation going on. What are your thoughts on the mood of these particular scenes and the subversive “lightness” of these moments?

JL: I don’t view them as a “riot” although there may be some comedy with her bringing a gun into church. You are addressing the dark versus light aspects of the church itself. That is quite interesting, especially with candles and other limited lights giving it a German Expressionist vibe. It could also reflect the dark and light aspects of both characters who relate to each other.

TB: Yes, most definitely.

JL: When she brings a gun to choir practice to show her same-age boy friend (versus Korchinsky who is her boyfriend), it is clear that her “moral compass” is not conforming with what the mass majority expects. Note too that even our killer himself seeks redemption by actually praying for forgiveness in the very same church. This is a key scene to get average viewers to both sympathize with him but also see that he will eventually accept the consequences of his actions in true “crime does not pay” fashion (to please the movie censorship boards). Gillie is far less religious and concerned about retribution for her “sins.”

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.24.39 AM.jpeg

Horst Buchholz

TB: This was Horst Buchholz’s first English language film. I found his acting quite good. I enjoyed the tenderness he conveyed at key intervals, despite being assigned to portray a violent murderer. I really think he has some of the best close-ups, too. He has a striking visual presence in all his movies. What are your impressions of him as a performer?

JL: He did remind me of Dirk Bogarde in the previous film, a romantic leading man who didn’t exactly fit the criminal mode and also played him as a sympathetic character we can relate to. Granted, so many criminals are played the same on screen and we all know that criminals are average people just like us… and we ourselves are equally capable of crime. If there is a flaw to both his and Dirk’s performances, it is the fact that they don’t seem terribly threatening enough. Not that they should be since we need a child attracted to them. However movie killers generally display more passion/anger in their personalities to at least explain “why” they would even think of taking another person’s life.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.23.07 AM.png

TB: Yes, Anya’s murder is not premeditated. Korchinsky flies into a rage and kills her in the heat of the moment. It’s a crime of passion. Later when he goes back to visit the roommate, he’s still full of rage.

JL: Korchinsky is not a “natural” criminal but a criminal who became so by circumstances. Therefore, he knows that ultimately he too must… eventually… pay his debt to society and not just “get away.” Otherwise he would not be allowed to be so looked up to, by a child on screen.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.20.09 AM.jpeg

TB: Speaking of Korchinsky’s tenderness, there’s an interesting scene where he almost considers pushing Gillie off the boat and into the water. In a way this is foreshadowing for the sequence at the end when she does fall off the ship and he saves her life (which costs him his freedom). I’d say there’s something sweet about her demeanor that causes him to do right by her. Even the inspector, Superintendent Graham (John Mills), has to sort of acknowledge their close bond at the end of the movie. Are there any other scenes like these that stand out to you?

JL: We learn in his church pray scene that he may eventually confess his crime to the authorities even if he will still try option #1 of getting out of the country first. Also, Gillie supports Korchinsky unconditionally as if she is his new girlfriend replacing Anya, and she even criticizes his “ex” after Anya’s death. I also enjoyed him joking with her in Polish and she riding a horse. Such scenes allow her to behave more as an average 12 year old enjoying average 12 year old activities rather than getting caught up protecting a criminal in his getaway.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.20.52 AM.jpeg

Cooperating with the law

TB: Eventually, she does “switch sides.” Korchinsky has taken off on the boat, and now the inspector and his men are using her to find out where Korshinsky went. They ask here a series of questions. I loved Gillie’s re-enactment of the murder. She was so over the top that I couldn’t help but laugh. And yes, I think we were meant to find that bit funny.

JL: That is what Hayley does best. She often gets all excited in her performance within a performance. She always was a talented method actress who loved putting on a show. This scene relates to my earlier thoughts on this movie’s overall theme of reality vs. perception. Yes, she knows she saw an actual murder but she behaves like it was an acted out scene for pretend, a bit like how the children played with toy guns earlier with no bullets involved.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.35.31 AM.jpeg

TB: Related to this was the reality that she was willing to keep lying in order to protect Korchinsky…but at the same time it would possibly incriminate an innocent man. Graham gives a short speech near the end where he tries to get Gillie to tell the truth about Korchinsky, by explaining to her the difference between lies that prove loyalty and lies that are wicked and allow an unjust person to go free.  Yet she is still fiercely loyal to Korchisky, because of her attachment to him. It’s not your run-of-the-mill story about a girl coming of age, is it?

JL: There are two key aspects that I gained from it. First, she recreates much of this scene for Graham, with his assistant Barclay (Anthony Dawson) playing the villain. We can see how different her staged events are. It almost seems as if she was watching a TV show and not a real murder… “pretend” like the children “pretending” to shoot each other with toy guns. (Yes, we know that is not the case.) Note too a key early discussion that Barclay has about a gun being used as a stage prop, keeping up with a recurring theme here of reality vs. perception. In the 1960s, there was a lot of debate about children getting too comfortable watching violence on screen, even if just TV western violence, and often confusing toys and props with the dangerous real thing. I guess this film is asking some of the same questions.

TB: I would say it is, yes.

JL: Secondly, there’s the Polish talk featured that Barclay wouldn’t understand and Korchinsky would that is the “evidence” that exposes her later re-enactment. The screenwriters John Hawkesworth and Shelley Smith use this “evidence” a little too blatantly for my tastes, since I think Gillie, had Hayley got to play her more realistically, would be more clever not exposing that. Yet I understand that this movie needed to reach its expected conclusion within a prescribed time frame.

TB: The writers have almost created a monster with Gillie, in the sense that she’s too clever, too smart. So they have to dial her down a bit, in order to make sure the plot finishes on schedule. Let’s talk a bit about John Mills.

John Mills

JL: A few interesting comparisons can be made to THE OCTOBER MAN. Here, John Mills is on the other side of the law, behind the police desk. In the earlier film, he is the one falsely accused of a crime and not finding the police sympathetic to him. I can almost imagine that, after successfully proving his innocence as Chris Lloyd and settling into happy married life with Joan Greenwood’s Jenny, he decided to join the force himself due to all of his experiences and do a more thorough job at it than others.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.33.14 AM.jpeg

TB: What are your thoughts about John Mills’ acting with his daughter Hayley?

JL: I wonder if this “reel” cop-investigating-the-kid situation reflected the real father-daughter relationship off screen. I bet Hayley could be quite a handful if not kept busy on some project… like movie acting. I especially love the scenes of the two in the police car and that impish grin of his turning to frustration.

TB: Yes, I did find that to be one of the most realistic interactions between them in the movie. I think he enjoyed working with his daughter and that reflected in his occasional smiles with her. I also liked the scene where they arrived at the dock and he hauled her down the steps, the way a father hauls a daughter somewhere when she’s in trouble.

JL: I really enjoyed this movie and can understand its surprise box office success.

TB: I know we’ve spoiled quite a bit of the plot, but it’s a film worth watching and re-watching. It contains a lot of interesting moments among the main characters. Thanks so much for taking the time to discuss it. This has been fun. TIGER BAY may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 6.23.53 AM.jpeg

Essential: HUNTED (1952)

Part 1 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.27.21 AM.jpeg

Dirk Bogarde and Jon Whiteley

TB: Dirk Bogarde said HUNTED was his personal favorite of all the motion pictures he made, and it’s easy to see why it was such a special experience for him. I think he does a remarkable job, and nearly all his scenes occur with young Jon Whiteley. Whiteley was a novice to moviemaking but he’s a natural. Thoughts on their working relationship, and the relationship between their two characters, Chris and Robbie?

screen-shot-2019-05-26-at-1.31.50-pm.jpeg

JL: I saw at least one documentary on Dirk’s career but did not know what films were his favorites. It is a different kind of role for a leading man of romantic films at this early stage of his career, so I can understand why he liked it. Later, of course, he took on equally curious and sometimes sinister roles for Luchino Visconti and others in the more “international” period of his career. No, he does not look like the killer type, but that is based on how stereotypical killers are portrayed on screen.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.22.45 AM.jpeg

JL: Jon Whiteley is a natural, as is Hayley Mills (who will be discussed next week). However this is the only role I have seen him in. I have not seen THE SPANISH GARDENER. He reminds me of the two most famous on-screen Oliver Twists. Not Jackie Coogan, but John Howard Davies and Mark Lester. Obviously these boys contrast from spunky Hayley who is a bundle of energy and has little trouble taking care of herself. The character of Robbie constantly needs somebody’s personal care.

Chris and Robbie

TB: On screen the relationship between Chris and Robbie evolves considerably. At first, Chris is a bit rough with Robbie (not unlike the boy’s abusive adoptive father). But gradually Chris softens. It’s an unusual sort of redemption story. Would you agree?

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.22.13 AM.jpeg

JL: The way Chris grabs Robbie by the arm and drags him about reminded me of the way both of my parents were with me. They were very impatient with me, even though they weren’t criminals on the run like Chris here. That is why the key scene with the boarding house lady (Jane Aird) is so important. She notices he has been through abuse and we, the viewers, know it is not on account of Chris.

TB: We do not get too much of Robbie’s backstory.

JL: From what we gather, Robbie was playing with matches and burned his stepmother’s curtains but thinks he burned down the house. Believing he is a criminal at the tender age of seven, he is running away…and winding up with another criminal that he discovered standing over a corpse. Chris is a sympathetic character we find ourselves oddly rooting for. We do not see the murder take place and are not entirely sure if it was partly an accident and partly a result of Chris getting caught up in his passions, but murder is still murder and his running away is not helping his case.

Fugitives

TB: The premise doesn’t seem like it would generate strong box office. We have a violent killer running off with a troubled boy. Initially, nobody they meet seems to suspect them of being fugitives. But things do get more difficult for them when Chris makes the front page of the newspaper. Do you find them being able to take off so easily a realistic thing?

JL: You say he is a “violent killer” but that is major problem here for me. We don’t see how the murder is committed and whether it was done in cold-blood or more accidentally. He does appear dazed and upset when we first see him as if he is trying to process what had happened. We also don’t see Chris particularly “violent” during the rest of the movie.

TB: Yes, that’s correct. Chris does not exhibit violent tendencies after the murder.

JL: Regarding whether or not the police was too slow in responding (testing our sense of realism here), what I found particularly interesting were all of the scenes of bombed out buildings that hadn’t been rebuilt after a war that ended six or seven years ago. It sent a message that Great Britain still had plenty of “rubble” to sort through and that it was rather easy for certain criminals to get a head start in their escapes.

Two lost souls

TB: I read a comment in a user review on the IMDb that I think is worth bringing up. A reviewer said “They are two lost souls traversing the countryside together. They are two people of different ages teaming up for a common cause.”

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 10.22.02 AM.jpeg

TB: Do you agree with this? At what point, do we take the rose-colored glasses off and say you know what, this is really a story about child abduction? I think society in late 1951 when this movie was filmed, obviously was very different from society now. It would be a tough sell to make this film today and try to market it as a feel-good buddy film. Also I think people would automatically assume he abducted the boy for sexual reasons. It wouldn’t seem so innocent now. What’s your take on that aspect of the film?

JL: On the surface, it seems like Robbie has been kidnapped as a witness to a crime and his step-parents are with the police trying to find him. Yet Robbie wants to stay with Chris. It is not like Chris is mean at him at all.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.26.04 AM.jpeg

JL: We do not know all of the plot details right away, which makes the story all the more interesting. For example, we are merely teased early on who the corpse is in a newspaper Chris reads, but much later find out, after confronting his wife (Elizabeth Sellars), that he was her boss whom she may have been having an affair with. Likewise, we only much later learn, as they are staying at a boarding house, that Robbie has bruises on his body that did NOT come from Chris. No, home is not a happy place for him to be.

TB: How do Chris and Robbie relate to one another? They form a rather strong bond in a short period of time.

JL: Chris can relate to Robbie’s lack of family love. His own brother refuses to take them in, although he was still nice enough to feed them, because of his “reputation with the community.” These two are outsiders who have nobody but each other. They bond like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier (in THE DEFIANT ONES) while on the run, even if running is not the best option for seven year olds who happen to get sick… and, as a result, Chris must make the ultimate decision in the dramatic climax aboard a herring boat.

Postwar poverty and the influence of Italian neorealism

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.27.40 AM.jpeg

TB: Let’s switch gears a bit and discuss the overarching theme. Or at least one of the main themes, which is postwar poverty. HUNTED conveys a sense of gritty realism and there’s very little sentimentality, except in a few key scenes. Robbie doesn’t smile until halfway into the story. And he doesn’t laugh until near the end. But then he gets sick, so his sunny disposition doesn’t last long. There really isn’t a lot of joy in this movie. Any specific thoughts on that?

JL: I saw a lot of similarities to the Italian imports, the neorealism of Vittorio de Sica, Roberto Rossellini and future Bogarde director Visconti. One key smiling scene of Robbie eating pasta with Chris and his brother reminded me of a similar scene in the pessimistic THE BICYCLE THIEVES, which topped the Sight & Sound poll the same year this film was released to theaters and was a benchmark of sorts that many “artistic” film-makers were imitating.

TB: Tomorrow Jlewis and I continue to discuss HUNTED and what makes it so special.

Please be sure to join us for Part 2…

Part 2 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.21.46 AM.jpeg

More about Italian neorealism

TB: Okay, we’re back to continue our discussion of HUNTED. When we left off yesterday, we had been discussing how the film’s director (Charles Crichton) was probably influenced by Italian neorealism. Anything else you’d like to say about that?

JL: This film is quite similar to other thrillers of the period that made great use of locales, but NOT in a tourist “pretty travelogue” sense. The Italians were presenting their country warts and all. The Brits and Yanks were impressed enough to do the same, but we do get some lovely countryside later on.

TB: Yes, good point.

JL: I am not sure if Visconti’s OSESSIONE had much of a release in the U.K. by this time and whether or not Chris Crichton and cinematographer Eric Cross saw it before doing this one. My guess is that they had only seen THE BICYCLE THIEVES, which was a gargantuan international box-office smash.

Memorable scenes

TB: A few scenes stand out to me. Meaning I thought they were expertly staged and acted. Number one, I loved the scene where they jump off the old bridge on to the train. It’s a nail biter.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.32.42 AM.jpeg

TB: Also, I consider the scene where Chris tells Robbie the bedtime story to be very memorable. It’s a clever way to use to reveal some of Chris’ backstory. And I think the scenes at the end are particularly effective– the part where Chris turns back the boat, and when he carries a very sick Robbie off the boat.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.21.13 AM.jpeg

TB: Did these scenes affect you, too? Or were there other moments that stood out for you in HUNTED?

JL: The train scene was great, but we get a lot of those in these types of films. I also liked all of the shots of gulls at the end.

TB: There’s a lack of background music in many of the scenes. This helps us focus on what the characters are saying and thinking. Did you notice this?

JL: Yes, there were scenes with no music but I didn’t notice it as particularly unusual, but that is an interesting perspective.

Camera work

TB: What are your thoughts on the way it was filmed?

JL: There were some great opening shots done from a small boy’s eye level. The first part of the movie showcases Robbie’s point of view; lots of low angle shots, close ups of horses startled in the city streets and adults looking down at the viewer. Later, when the emphasis shifts to Chris the adult lead, the camera compositions change.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.25.12 AM.jpeg

TB: Yes. I hadn’t considered the different vantage points, in terms of how the characters were photographed.

JL: All of the earlier shots focus on Robbie’s point of view with the camera angles presented accordingly. Also we don’t see the actual crime committed but come into the aftermath scene just as Robbie does. Therefore, we can understand why he becomes attracted to Chris and does not fear him as a murderer.

TB: The camerawork seems to change when they reach the boarding house. There are group shots, from more of an omniscient point of view.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.31.30 AM.jpeg

JL: There are also some very nice Hitchcockian set-pieces too, including the all-important railroad track narrow escape scene. One particularly good scene earlier in the movie predates Cary Grant at Grand Central station in Hitch’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Chris tries to get quick cash on a coat but the pawnshop owner gets suspicious and gets on a phone in the next room. While he pretends he is only calling a potential buyer rather than the authorities, Chris knows better. Outside the window, a cop is questioning Robbie why he isn’t in school. Like Cary’s Roger, he is not waiting around to find out what happens next.

The film’s conclusion

TB: What about the end of the movie?

JL: Love those shots of gulls flapping past herring boats, symbolizing Chris’ need to literally… fly away.

TB: The final sequence of HUNTED is very visual. The long tracking shot at the end where he brings Robbie up from the boat while the crowd and the police are swarming along the dock is certainly memorable. And things are left unresolved in a way– will Robbie go back to live with his adoptive parents, or will he be placed in a new home? What will happen to Chris and his wife?

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.25.24 AM.jpeg

TB: Also, will Chris’ brother ever acknowledge him? There are a few plot threads dangling, which makes us wonder what happens next. It’s a great movie, and it gives us so much to consider.

HUNTED may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: THE OCTOBER MAN (1947)

Part 1 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.34.53 PM.jpeg

Significance of the title

TB: JLewis and I are discussing the classic postwar film THE OCTOBER MAN, starring John Mills. It’s a unique title.

JL: The title of this movie has minor significance to the storyline. The Piscean actor John Mills (whose voice often reminds me of fellow Piscean David Niven even though they look nothing alike) plays Jim Ackland, a Libra or “October Man” who is described as “affable, suave, dapper” and someone who has a “sense of duty.” Also he “loves life.” Yet Jim does think about ending his own twice, looking down at train tracks. When he hears that last description, he appears hesitant to agree, but gains a lot of confidence in himself by the end credits.

TB: Saying he loves life seems ironic. But I saw it more as a foreshadowing that he will beat the odds. The film starts with a tragedy. He’s involved in a terrible bus crash, and it sets in a motion a series of events that nearly overtake his life. What were your thoughts about that? Also, as you indicated, Mills plays a man continually on the brink of suicide. What did you think of the screeching train whistles and the tied handkerchief, as symbols of his inner torment?

JL: The bus crash is important in establishing his suicidal tendencies. Your mention of this reminds of a few other details to the tricks he performs with his handkerchief, turning it into a playful bunny with the girl before the crash. Later it’s viewed as a strangling device by the police investigator.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.48.54 PM.jpeg

Similar to other classic films

TB: I think the film shares themes with RANDOM HARVEST because of the amnesia that Mills’ character experiences. Also, it’s a bit similar to THE BLUE DAHLIA because of the head injury trauma. Would you agree?

JL: I saw RANDOM HARVEST a few times, but THE BLUE DAHLIA is one I haven’t seen in a long while and would have to revisit.

TB: In THE BLUE DAHLIA, William Bendix plays a returning serviceman who has experienced brain damage in battle. We don’t quite get that in THE OCTOBER MAN with Mills’ character, though it might be suggested that his condition is similar to that of men who’ve just come back from the war.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.22.20 PM.jpeg

John Mills

TB: What are your feelings about Mills as an actor? One review I read said he gives an honest performance. I agree and also feel he gives a very understated and graceful performance. The way he conveys the barely suppressed hysteria of the main character is outstanding.

JL: Always liked John Mills’ acting in the films I did see. This was a good vehicle for him. It is interesting to compare Mills here with his previous role in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, where his Pip deals with Miss Havisham who essentially committed mental suicide after losing the love of her life and then forcing Jean Simmons/Valerie Hobson’s Estella to almost become as “dead” as her. He is very optimistic in that one but pessimistic here. In this film it is Joan Greenwood’s character Jenny who saves him, as Pip saves Estelle at the end of the other movie.

TB: This sort of keeps him from getting typecast in these motion picture assignments. I felt like he was channeling the wounded hero in his portrayal– physical recovery and mental recovery, after a traumatic event. The bus crash might stand-in for the disaster and fatalities that men experienced first-hand in the war; though his character is a civilian, and he’s a chemist. He carries this wounding with him throughout the rest of the story, until the very end.

JL: You are right about the “metaphor of a post-war soldier”, which relates it to RANDOM HARVEST (Ronald Colman being a survivor of the first world war in a movie released during the second), but I also wonder if the timing of its release factors more than anything specific. I was not thinking of the war at all when watching it because so many other stories and movies (i.e. GREAT EXPECTATIONS) just need any tragedy to cause havoc on a main character.

TB: I like how we see him lose everything in the beginning. Then he gradually rebuilds his life. Settling into the hotel, starting his new job, meeting new people, falling in love, regaining his confidence. Then it’s all in jeopardy again when the murder occurs. They could have included more subtle references to the war, if they wanted Mills to represent an ex-soldier. So while Eric Ambler’s story doesn’t really “go all the way there,” I do think Mills is referencing that consciously in his performance. This is where I feel it’s an admirable piece of acting. He’s taking the contrived scenario and making it realistic.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.19.18 PM.jpeg

Joyce Carey and the other women in the cast

JL: Joyce Carey seemed to get as much, if not more, screen time as Joan Greenwood despite the latter’s second billing. This makes me wonder why her character was so important to the story. She viewed Jim as rude and unsociable simply because he didn’t want to play cards, which established him as the outsider viewed as a potential suspect when it was really an insider (Peachy was part of The Gang) responsible for the murder. This theme of the outsider not being trusted relates it to many other key 1940s classics such as THE OX-BOW INCIDENT and CROSSFIRE. Of course, the more detailed we get here, the more we will spoil the plot for readers.

TB: Thoughts about the rest of the supporting cast?

JL: Like John Mills, who previously appeared in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, we get plenty of the David Lean connection here. Kay Walsh gets strangled in this movie, and as Nancy in Oliver Twist. But she also appeared in company with Mills in the earlier Lean/Noel Coward collaborations, IN WHICH WE SERVE and THIS HAPPY BREED.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.27.24 PM.jpeg

TB: What about Joan Greenwood? I found her to be most effective as the love interest. She doesn’t have oodles of screen time, but her role is essential, especially when it comes time for the plot’s denouement.

JL: Cutie-pie Joan Greenwood plays Mills’ new girlfriend Jenny even though she doesn’t have a whole lot to do besides be his support system. Her better roles came later on. In things like KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, or the Ray Harryhausen film MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. And she was seen wooing Albert Finney as Lady Bellaston in TOM JONES.

TB: Catherine Lacey is also in this picture.

JL: Catherine Lacey is another familiar face running the boarding house/hotel, also seen in famous titles like Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES, I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! and WHISKEY GALORE. Then there’s Edward Chapman…he did some early Hitchcock predating Lacey, but he is more famous for such Alexander Korda spectacles as THINGS TO COME and REMBRANDT.

Tomorrow Jlewis and I discuss Chapman’s character in THE OCTOBER MAN. And we also look at how the police are represented in this film. Make sure you join us for Part 2…

Part 2 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.34.53 PM.jpeg

TB: I am back with Jlewis as we continue our discussion about THE OCTOBER MAN.

Edward Chapman as Peachy

TB: Let’s go a bit more in-depth with Chapman’s performance. He’s brilliant in this film.

JL: We find out his character, Peachy, is the killer two-thirds of the way in…and are not terribly surprised. Then we spend the last twenty minutes with Jim (John Mills) in a mad dash to a train station to stop Peachy and prove his own innocence.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.17.55 PM.jpeg

TB: I love the scene earlier at the boarding house where Jim confronts Peachy, in order to out him as the killer. Mainly because this is where we see how twisted Peachy is. He’s defiant, and he thinks he will get away with killing Molly. Peachy is counting on a prevailing prejudice against the mentally ill to corner Jim and ensure that Jim is blamed. I love how deranged and bold Peachy is during this confrontation, and how nihilistic it all is for Jim…since he knows Peachy is right. Jim’s going to take the fall for Molly’s murder and Peachy will get away, unless Jim fights back and does something about it. Truly excellent acting with John Mills and Edward Chapman.

JL: Yeah… I had mixed feelings about that scene. It was somewhat effective and, yes, Jim was judged “mental” while Peachy was not, so Peachy had less going against him. Again, this is an overall theme of sorts that Peachy is not the outsider who must prove himself like Jim has to. I can also relate it slightly, if not directly, to how Jimmy Stewart’s character had a fear of heights (and a death trauma that started it) that was used against him by the villain killer in VERTIGO. I don’t know…something just felt a little off about this scene with Peachy, but I can’t place what it is exactly. It didn’t seem as realistic as other parts of the movie.

TB: Interesting. I like how Ambler wove in the class warfare stuff. Where we learn that Peachy could afford to own ten of these boarding houses, but he was slumming because Molly stayed here. So he was lowering himself, taking up with people beneath his station in life…because he needed love.

JL: I guess what I liked was Peachy demonstrating just how arrogant and self confident he was by telling Jim all of this point-blank when he could have not told him anything. This prompts the “uh-oh” when he thinks he is all set to fly to Lisbon and get away from British law because he didn’t expect Jim to successfully find out his flight destination so quickly.

TB: And of course the mistake Peachy made was he should have gone off to Glasgow, long enough for Jim to be arrested. Then he could have made his way to Lisbon from Glasgow. The one thing where I think Ambler’s plot stretches credibility is that the police wait so long before they decide that Jim’s their man and go off to arrest him. I don’t think we’re supposed to feel the police are that incompetent. They are being thorough, but they take their sweet time arresting Jim.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.28.30 PM.jpeg

How the police are represented

JL: The police are not necessarily incompetent. But it is well known that Hitchcock was often critical of cops in many of his movies and I sensed that Ambler was a bit too. Plus it adds to the excitement of the accused to prove his innocence himself. An attorney would make it all too easy for him and we won’t have enough suspense! There are quite a few Hitchcock comparisons that can be made here, as you can see from my many examples.

TB: I suppose Ambler needs to have the police act slowly, so that Jim is free to confront Peachy and figure out where Peachy’s going. But I felt that was the weakest part. I think the police would have been more aggressive. Also not once does Jim even consider finding an attorney to consult with, he’s more interested in either going back to the hospital for treatment, or else killing himself. Before he develops the resolve to bring Peachy down.

JL: In many respects, this is a lighter weight version of such Alfred Hitchcock nuggets as STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE WRONG MAN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and several others that feature the falsely accused having to take matters into his own hands. I have a feeling that producer-writer Eric Ambler and director Roy Ward Baker viewed cops as equally incompetent in the way they investigate crimes as Hitch often did.

TB: I loved the scene with Jim accusing Mrs. Vinton (Joyce Carey) of lying to the police.

JL: Yeah… she had me in her corner when she sobbed to Stanley Holloway’s Albert in BRIEF ENCOUNTER, but not so much here in her more manipulative sobbing after Jim tells her “it was the only way to get to the truth.” All of the characters seemed just as handicapped as Jim felt he was. The constant pleading for “more coal in the room” seemed quite helpless and child-like, which made Jim’s mission to prove his own innocence by racing to the train station on time all the more heroic. Note too that he was the one fixing the fuse box when you know these people can’t all be that stupid.

TB: These people were exhibiting what I call “learned helplessness.” Jim was the only one who became self-empowered. Though I guess we can say that Peachy also had a sense of power and control, misguided as it was. The character I found most annoying, however, was the girlfriend’s brother…the guy Jim worked with…he seemed to doubt Jim when Jim most needed his support. As if he felt that Jim was not good enough for his sister and he’d let Jim twist in the wind. The brother finally comes round near the end, but some of his actions earlier in the film were a bit unforgivable.

JL: I think the whole point there was that the only one besides Jim who supported Jim was Jenny. Even Jenny was at odds with her own family in that regard. Proof that she was in love with him. This counters the warning made earlier in the film that he should not marry right away due to his condition. He needed somebody who supported him and, even if I stated that Joan Greenwood didn’t have much to do in her role, she was the only one there “for better and for worse.”

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.20.52 PM.jpeg

Erwin Hillier’s cinematography

TB: Let’s talk about the film’s cinematography for a moment. Erwin Hillier had started with Fritz Lang as an assistant cameraman on M (1931). The German expressionism of Hillier’s earlier career seems to be influencing this work. The cinematography has a lot of deep blacks and brilliant whites, which I love. We see almost all dark exteriors and the interiors are often dimly lit. This adds greatly to the story, really creating a strong atmosphere.

JL: Like many post-war Brit Hollywood productions that carry the Rank gong at the start (Eagle-Lion, Rank’s short-lived American company, distributed it to the yanks across the Big Pond), this Two-Cities operation is one very classy production with great moody cinematography by Erwin Hillier and a slushy orchestra score to match. I love the fog scenes featured, as well as a few key shots of multiple characters shown in deep focus à la Gregg Toland.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 2.46.19 PM.png

Astrology in the movie

TB: One of the minor themes in THE OCTOBER MAN is astrology. How did that come across to you?

JL: Jim receives a horoscope reading from a fellow boarding house resident named Molly (Kay Walsh). She is probably a Gemini (or early Cancer) and has all of her troubles coming in twos. One comes in a man named Wilcox (Jack Melford), whom she is romancing despite him being married and not leaving his wife. Another, Mr. Peachy, is one whom she is trying to avoid but had to borrow money from earlier. There is nothing going on between her and Jim apart from his fixing the electricity in her room and sympathizing with her hard luck by writing her a loan check for fifty pounds so she can pay Peachy back.

TB: Yes, Jim is a noble guy, being kind to her.

JL: That very check causes trouble for him later when it is found on her strangled-to-death body. Poor Jim is a suspect, despite only socializing with her twice. Since he previously went to a mental hospital for a head injury in a bus accident… and one that claimed the life of a little girl he was taking care of in a double whammy of trauma… he sometimes has black out spells. Unfortunately he can’t remember what he was doing at the time of Molly’s death.

TB: This is all part of the wounded hero thing going on in the movie. We see Jim’s impulses towards violence and suicide, balanced by a desire to become more stable and clear his name.

JL: Again, there are a lot of Little Things that may just be… little things of unimportance… or important details for story and character.

TB: Going back to the title for a moment. I had expected it to take place in October, or for the climax to occur in October. I thought the month would play a more significant part in the story but it really does not. They could just as easily have called it The Libra Man. Again such description of him as relates to astrology doesn’t have much bearing on the plot…except that it’s part of how he and Molly spend time getting to know each other.

JL: I also wondered about the significance of her astrology book being present upon the time of her death. No, the movie is not perfectly integrated as a whole and I sense that the crew was selecting certain tidbits from other movies that were successful just to get a satisfying drama out to theaters. Yet it is still a fun movie to watch.

TB: What did you think about the card games?

JL: The card games involve a clever hand motion and we see a character splitting them up close, much as we do Jim’s tying his cloth in various knots. Therefore, virtually all of the characters seem rather stressed out and need some sort of outlet. Again, this was typical fodder for the Hollywood forties: Bette Davis fussing with her needlework in THE LETTER and ditto Olivia de Havilland in THE HEIRESS (regardless of the actual time frame of the stories not being the decade they were made) to Dana Andrews and his baseball pin toy in LAURA that annoys Clifton Webb to no end. I am not quite sure how the astrology talk, which is where the title comes from, fits in here apart from getting Molly to say that Jim “loves life”… and he does in the end.

TB: Well, we’ve certainly discussed this film at length, and it has been a lot of fun. Thanks JLewis for providing your insights. The good news is that THE OCTOBER MAN may currently be viewed on YouTube. I hope our readers will take a look at it.

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 6.33.50 PM.png

Essential: THE SEARCHING WIND (1946)

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.14.38 PM.jpeg

This is a Hal Wallis production, and for those who know his films– they tend to be meticulously crafted affairs (which usually works in the viewer’s favor). This picture has an incredible budget, and it features extravagant sets and backdrops. Wallis and director William Dieterle are in no hurry to start the story. They want us to soak up the atmosphere and tease us about the tale to follow. While everything is lavishly staged and intriguing up front, it’s like going to a concert to see a great orchestra perform and you get an elongated overture while the curtain still remains drawn. You want them to pull the curtain back so everything can get underway. That’s how THE SEARCHING WIND feels in the beginning.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.12.15 PM.jpeg

Characters refer to the past– and you just know a large flashback is going to follow, which it eventually does. But this is delayed in order to establish Wallis’ new discovery, Douglas Dick. He plays Sam Hazen the young son of the lead characters. Sam’s situation is revealed in modern-day scenes that take place after the war– he came home a cripple; and he is withdrawn and angry. Wallis and Dieterle want us to become familiar with Douglas Dick and the character of Sam. This pushes the film’s running time to almost two hours, when it could easily have been told in a much more succinct ninety minutes.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.30.39 PM.jpeg

Once the preamble is out of the way, and the flashback occurs– we get a very interesting story about Sam’s father Alex (Robert Young), an American diplomat who lives in Europe at the onset of the war with Sam’s mother Emily (Ann Richards). Because of an isolationist point of view, Alex turns a blind eye to the encroaching fascism in Italy and other neighboring countries. Alex is meant to represent American views, so the U.S. is regarded as silently supporting fascist politics due to Alex’s unwillingness to take a stand against this.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.32.23 PM.jpeg

THE SEARCHING WIND is based on Lillian Hellman’s award-winning stage play of the same name, and she wrote the screenplay. In her story, Hellman is drawing attention to the ignorance of the bourgeoisie. But do not assume she’s writing only about war and government politics. She is also presenting a woman’s melodrama. Early on we see that Emily Hazen is an artificial sort of wife whose main goal is to rub elbows with royalty and important heads of state to promote her husband’s career. But while she’s doing that, Alex is distracted by another woman named Cassie Bowman (Sylvia Sidney).

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.38.17 PM.jpeg

Cassie is a political correspondent, and she just so happens to be Alex’s long-lost love. They were once engaged to be married, but Cassie’s career took priority. As a result, Alex decided to move on and marry Emily. A short time later they had Sam. But despite having a trophy wife and an ideal son, Alex has never gotten over his feelings for Cassie. And of course, Cassie hasn’t gotten over her feelings for him either.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.24.10 PM.jpeg

The romantic triangle between these three takes center stage while various atrocities and betrayals occur in the background. Eventually Cassie comes to reject Alex, because as a journalist, her investigations have led her to realize his complicity in the on-going horrors of war in Europe. Her rejection of Alex at the end sends him back into the arms of his wife, an individual who is much like himself.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.27.14 PM.jpeg

Meanwhile, Alex learns a horrible truth about his son’s injuries in battle and how he may have been responsible. Hellman brings it all full-circle, and the pay-off is dramatically satisfying. But of course, Wallis and Dieterle have paced it so leisurely, especially the early scenes, that a tighter more economic brand of storytelling is out of the question.

Screen%2Bshot%2B2016-06-04%2Bat%2B1.38.2

There is another important character we meet during the course of Hellman’s story, and that is Moses (Dudley Digges, in his last screen role). Moses is a retired newspaper owner whose company employs Cassie. Complicating matters and increasing the soap opera value, it is revealed that Moses is Emily’s father. Moses is not quite comic relief, but he does bring an airy lightness to an otherwise somber motion picture, and his moments on camera are usually quite entertaining. Moses is a bit more human than Alex and Emily, providing emotional support to Sam when Sam returns from battle as a cripple. Moses’ concern for his grandson causes Alex to redirect his focus and help Sam, too.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.10.40 PM.jpeg

When THE SEARCHING WIND concludes you realize something. Not all films provide immediate gratification. Some of them take longer to play out on screen, and they might make viewers work a little harder. But if the audience’s thought process has gone in a slightly more profound direction– like Cassie Bowman’s does– then perhaps it’s all been worth it.

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 5.48.31 PM.jpeg