The Song of Songs (1933)

Poster - Song of Songs, The (1933)_03This is my contribution to the Pre-Code Blogathon, organised by Danny of Pre-Code.com and Karen of Shadows and Satin. Please take a look at the other postings – there’s a wide range of films being covered.

Marlene Dietrich’s series of films made with Josef von Sternberg are her most famous pre-Codes. As a result, The Song of Songs, made by another great director, Rouben Mamoulian, tends to be overlooked. However, here too she gives a powerful and varied performance, in a film which is packed with pre-Code content and really pushes the boundaries. I was lucky enough to see this film during the recent pre-Code season at the BFI in London, and Victor Milner’s cinematography makes a powerful impression on the big screen. It’s also available to watch on DVD – I have the standard DVD from Universal in the UK/region 2, which doesn’t feature any extras. In region 1 it’s been issued on a more expensive DVD-R from Universal and TCM.

The excellent cast includes Brian Aherne and Lionel Atwill as the two men in Dietrich’s life, but this is her film all the way, giving her a chance to put several different spins on her screen persona. She also sings two great songs, which encapsulate those different versions of her personality.

Continue reading “The Song of Songs (1933)”

Three Coins in the Fountain (Jean Negulesco, 1954)

This is my contribution to the CinemaScope blogathon, running from March 13 to 16, which is being organised by Classic Becky’s Brain Food and Wide Screen World – please visit and take a look at the other postings!

Three Coins in the Fountain 1I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra, so in his centenary year I couldn’t resist choosing Three Coins in the Fountain to write up for the blogathon. While Sinatra doesn’t appear – and isn’t even credited! – his singing of the great title song is probably the first thing that comes to mind for most people when thinking of this film. My mum tells me that everyone came out of the cinema singing it when the film was released in 1954.  The lyrics of the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn number don’t have a great deal to do with the plot, but it really doesn’t matter. This is a movie where you definitely wouldn’t want to miss the first few minutes, with the song swelling out over stunning footage of the Trevi  Fountain, followed by sweeping shots of Rome.

Of course, another reason for visiting this film this year is in tribute to French star Louis Jourdan, who died a few weeks ago aged 93. Sadly he doesn’t get a chance to sing here, as he did in Gigi a few years later, but he does play the piccolo – and gives an amusing performance as a conceited prince. There’s no explanation as to why an Italian prince has a French accent!

Continue reading “Three Coins in the Fountain (Jean Negulesco, 1954)”

Anna Sten

This is my contribution to the Russia in Classic Film blogathon, being organised by Movies Silently. Please take a look at the great range of posts on films, stars and directors with Russian links.

Anna Sten in Nana, from the Doctor Macro website
Anna Sten in Nana, from the Doctor Macro website

She’s known as ‘Goldwyn’s Folly’ – if she gets a mention at all, that is. But, after seeing a few of her films, I feel that actress Anna Sten deserves more recognition. The Russian star  was a victim of over-hype by the studio – with failed attempts to turn her into the “new” Garbo or Dietrich, rather than creating an image around her own screen personality. She was also advertised as the “Passionate Peasant”, which didn’t sit well with the glamorous photos used to celebrate her beauty.

Either because of too much publicity, the studio’s choice of roles or for some other reason, Sten failed to set the box office alight. That’s not in doubt… but I do get fed up with the claims in reviews of some of her films that she “couldn’t act” or “lacked talent”. Her success before arriving in the US surely proves the opposite – and her acting ability also shines through in the films she did make in Hollywood.

Born in Kiev, probably in 1908 though records vary, Anna was half Ukrainian and half-Swedish. She attended theatre school and, after being discovered by legendary theatre director Stanislavsky, appeared on stage and in a number of Russian and German silent films. She went on to star in German talkies, including an acclaimed production of The Brothers Karamazov made in 1931 – I’ve just seen this and it’s a forgotten gem.

Continue reading “Anna Sten”

Dallas (Stuart Heisler, 1950)

dallas 1I’ve been watching a few 1950s Westerns lately, and enjoyed this gorgeously-filmed Technicolor offering from the start of the decade, starring Gary Cooper. It’s one of his lesser films, and rather uneven, with some unbelievable plot twists, but still a good role for him. Cooper plays a haunted man – a former Confederate officer, Blayde “Reb” Hollister, who has lost everything in the war. For Reb, the conflict is still going on, as he turns  outlaw and has a price on his head. Ruth Roman stars opposite Cooper, with Leif Erickson, Raymond Massey and Steve Cochran also featuring in a fine cast.

Cooper was pushing 50 when he made this, and his leading-man looks are noticeably fading. But his weary, melancholy features make his role as a lonely outsider all the more poignant. His character is someone who has been left behind, and is trying to make his way in a world which has moved on without him. This reminded me of Bogart’s character in a film director Stuart Heisler made the previous year, Tokyo Joe, who is also emotionally stranded after a war, though in his case it is the Second World War.  (Both films also have a strong focus on love triangles, as does Blue Skies, the only other Heisler film I’ve seen, which, as a Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire musical,  is otherwise worlds away from this one, )

Continue reading “Dallas (Stuart Heisler, 1950)”

Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935)

This is my contribution to the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon, which is running from January 22 to 25. Please do visit and read the other postings!

Poster - Becky Sharp_01 I’ll admit I expected a lot from Becky Sharp. It has a great star, Miriam Hopkins, in a powerful role giving her plenty of scope, and a great director – Mamoulian, who made such classic pre-Codes as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Love Me Tonight. It’s adapted from one of the best-known Victorian novels, Thackeray’s glittering satire Vanity Fair, set around the Battle of Waterloo. And, what’s more, it was the first full-length feature ever made in glorious three-strip Technicolor. What’s not to love?

The movie didn’t quite live up to my expectations, though it certainly has its moments and I’m very glad to have seen it. One problem is that it seems to be hard to get hold of a decent print. This film has fallen into the public domain, so many versions around on the net and on DVD are almost unwatchable – very sad, since early Technicolor can look fantastic if properly restored. There is a version restored by UCLA, but this isn’t available on DVD, although it is sometimes shown on TCM in the US.

Continue reading “Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935)”