Friday, July 29, 2011

Let's Talk Classic Adaptations (really just an excuse to throw in a discussion about History is Made at Night [1937])

For a girl who pursued and read the classics (literary and musical) through her high school and early university career, I figure it always helps to brush up on classics of all mediums--- including those not yet viewed by me in the film genre. Here's some recent viewage of mine:

Brief Encounter (dir. David Lean, screenplay by Noel Coward ( based on his play, Still Life )

Any good people in it?: Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson --- both excellent and believable. Celia gets more and more beautiful and beguiling as Lean manipulates colour and light to expose a woman in love

Literary Significance: Often referred to as one of the greatest romances ever filmed for the cinema and rated as the 2nd best British film ever made according to the BFI 100 list
Read more about Brief Encounter here. This movie rightly depressed me because it ends so bleakly and so hopelessly. It rather views like Film Noir: even though the only suspense lies in rather chaste weekly meetings between two married people who border on consummating an affair. Perhaps what leaves your soul so wrenched is the collective decency of both; their normalcy and believability and your absolute assurance that should they have crossed paths in another time, they would have been absolutely suited for each other. The "end of the affair" ( to throw in some Graham Greene for you) is as ill-timed as their short courtship. There wasn't a dry eye in my apartment( well, I was the only one in my apartment; but you get the point)

All This, and Heaven Too (dir. Anatole Litvak, screenplay by Casey Robinson (adapted from the novel by Rachel Field)
Any good people in it? : umm, yah! Our pal Charles Boyer and the luminous Bette Davis ( although don’t try finding chemistry between these two because they don’t have any)

Literary Significance: based on a melodramatic historical novel about the thwarted passion between an aristocrat and a governess and the murder of said aristocrat’s domineering wife.
It’s really hard to take this movie seriously; but it is a lot of fun with lots of stolen glances and snow and tragic hand-wringing and a married couple that really likes to throw things at each other in their infuriated passion behind closed doors.

History is Made at Night
( dir. Frank Bozage, screenplay by C. Graham Baker

Any good people in it?: our pal Charles Boyer again –and he is the most compelling romantic lead. Also, Jean Arthur and her cello-like speaking voice….
Literary Significance: Well! not really as it’s not adapted or inspired by anything but, readers, it deserves a moment because this film is a GONG SHOW! Describes Slant Magazine: “History Is Made at Night, which Andrew Sarris has called the most romantic title in the history of cinema (and I'm not going to argue with him) is a patchwork quilt genre bender that stands as one of Frank Borzage's supreme achievements.” Genre-bending indeed! This is part romantic comedy-psychological thriller-murder mystery-American in Paris-fish out of water-social commentary- DISASTER movie ( like epic, SHIP SINKING A LA TITANIC type Disaster Movie).

If you pitched this to Hollywood today it would get eyebrows raised and little thought. But it was the 30s and screwball comedy was in and apparently you could use a bit of that as your platform to build a pyramid of genre numbing proportions. Do not TRY to explain this film to anyone after you see it. I am having the dickens of a time trying to explain it to you. The article previously referenced goes on to say: “The improbability of the plot serves as a sort of dizzying high, as if they were saying, "This is the movies, and we can do anything." Pretty much.

Somewhere I read that they started shooting the film before the screenplay was finished so the cast and crew were just as flabberghasted by the rapid sequence of events as you will be when you watch it ( which you should; only because you will never see anything ever try to be it again). Nick Pinkerton writes: “Much of the reputation for extravagant romance that the film holds among admirers of classic cinema, I think, is owed to Arthur—to watch her dance with Boyer is to witness a woman falling in love in real time.
I am not the only one to tackle this. See this blog

This one mentions Boyer’s knack with a hat
Read about Why Charles Boyer is Awesome in This Movie

Mr. Skeffington
(dir. Vincent Sherman, screenplay, Julius and Philip Epstein adapted from the novel by Elizabeth von Armin)
Any good people in it?: Claude Rains--- who eats his role for breakfast so mesmerizing and quietly strong he is in carrying the film’s undercurrent and Bette Davis’s eyes –also the rest of her, I guess, but her eyes are all you will notice.
Literary significance: another story taken from a popular melodramatic novel of the day. Released in 1944, I was very amazed by the ramification of German concentration camps utilized in the plot when Jewish Job Skeffington is imprisoned overseas, robbed of his substantial wealth and blinded by ill-treatment. Of course, during this era in Hollywood, the war was mentioned ( often to inspire American jingoism and as yet another means of propaganda)--- but rarely in such stark detail. The film also shows incredibly convincing newsreels from the Great War.

Note: Claude Rains really should have won an Academy for Best Actor for his turn here ( and not just a nomination nod for best supporting)

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