Under Capricorn (Alfred Hitchcock, 1949)

Under Capricorn poster

This is my contribution to the Ingrid Bergman blogathon being organised by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Please visit to read the other postings.

Ingrid Bergman starred in three Hitchcock films, all made during the 1940s. The first two, Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946), are both  recognised as classics, but the third, Under Capricorn (1949) has fallen under the radar. It seems to have disappointed many Hitchcock fans, partly because it was wrongly marketed as a thriller. There are some especially misleading posters which seem to have been issued for a 1960s rerelease, with a headline screaming “Murder will out!” and black-and-white photos arranged to make the film look like a close relation of Psycho.  

In fact, the film is a slow-burning romantic period drama set in 1830s Australia, and filmed in gorgeous Technicolor by the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Sadly, it wasn’t actually filmed in Australia, but mainly made in London, so there are no glimpses of the wildlife which is repeatedly mentioned, and it’s hard to believe in the characters’ complaints of heat! Bergman gives a brilliant, intense performance in the lead role as alcoholic Lady Henrietta Flusky, with Joseph Cotten and Michael Wilding as the two men caught up with her in a damaging love triangle.

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Gaslight (1940 and 1944)

This posting is my contribution to The Great Villain Blogathon. Please take a look at the other postings, which cover an amazing range of films.

gaslight poster 2There’s something peculiarly chilling about a villain stalking you in your own house – especially when it’s the person who is supposed to be your soulmate. A number of films made in the era of noir explored the plight of wives psychologically tortured by their husbands (Rebecca, Suspicion, The Two Mrs Carrolls). The two versions of Gaslight are among the best.

Here are my thoughts on the two films – and gaslight poster 1the two  villains of the piece, played by Anton Walbrook and Charles Boyer, with Diana Wynyard and Ingrid Bergman as their terrified wives. Both versions have great lead performances and it’s fascinating to compare them. In particular, Boyer and Walbrook are very different. To my mind the earlier film, directed by Thorold Dickinson, holds its mood better and is more truly frightening than the George Cukor remake, but both are powerful dramas in their own right.

Although there are many changes, in each case the main story is the same, focusing on a wife trapped within a Gothic house amid the darkness of Victorian London. A murder took place in the house years ago, with a woman being killed for her jewels, but her attacker failed to find the gems and went away empty-handed. Now the house is haunted by the memory of that crime. Every evening the gaslight dims – but is it really the wife’s mind which is fading? Her apparently attentive husband claims that she is showing signs of mental illness, yet it becomes increasingly apparent that he is the one driving her to a breakdown.

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Take Five: Cats on Film

Since writing a posting about dogs on film a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been wondering about cats’  roles in the movies- and have now come up with a few, with some photos and video clips. Individual cats might tend not to play big parts, but there are still quite a few featured in movies. Once again, these are not necessarily the best five movie cats, but just five I like – and I’d be interested to hear other suggestions.  I don’t have much time tonight, but wanted to keep up my Monday series – and I will also hopefully be posting a full movie review later this week!

Alice in Wonderland (1903): My daughter, Charlotte, drew my attention to this very first film version of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Just nine minutes long, it has been restored by the BFI complete with the original colour tints. The Cheshire cat in this is a family pet and looks amazingly grumpy! It was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, and was based on Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations – and, as the BFI points out, made just 37 years after the novel was written. The film is severely damaged and not easy to watch, though I think it is worth it – but, if you don’t have time for the whole thing or can’t put up with the picture quality, the cat features at 4.56.

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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931 and 1941)

Following on from my posting about the silent 1920 version starring John Barrymore, here are some thoughts about the two talkies made in 1931 and 1941, starring Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.

SPLIT PERSONALITIES: Fredric March, above, and Spencer Tracy with Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, below

After watching the two talkies, I definitely think the Rouben Mamoulian version from 1931, starring Fredric March, is by far the stronger of the two, largely because, as it’s pre-code, it can be a lot more daring in sexual terms. This version amounts to a powerful attack on oppressive Victorian morality, making the story all about sexual repression. It’s suggested that Jekyll, who in this version, as in the Barrymore one, is again young and beautiful, is being driven to despair by being forced to undergo a long engagement to the virtuous Muriel (Rose Hobart).
He is tempted to take on his second identity in order to have a sadistic affair with music hall singer/prostitute Ivy, leading to murderous violence. Something I liked about the movie was that it is sympathetic to Ivy, played by Miriam Hopkins, who is shown as beautiful and alluring and does her best to tempt Jekyll, but certainly isn’t dismissed as a “bad girl”. The scenes with Jekyll and Ivy in this version are the sexiest scenes in any of the three, I’d say – a shadowy outline of her swinging bare leg is still there in the next scene, showing how he is haunted by her. This is just one of the scenes which uses striking experimental effects, with another being the one where Jekyll first transforms into Hyde, a moment which is also one of the greatest sequences in the Barrymore version .

The film might seem anti-feminist in that Muriel’s refusal to enter into a sexual relationship before marriage drives Jekyll/Hyde to his crimes – but, complicating this, she only rejects her lover because she is too dutiful a daughter to her overbearing father.
Unlike Barrymore or Spencer Tracy, whose features are still clearly there when transformed into Hyde, March looks unrecognisable. His heavy ape-like make-up is apparently to suggest that he is turning back into the beast beneath man’s civilised surface.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion of the 1931 movie in ‘Dangerous Men’, by  Mick LaSalle – unfortunately I’ve taken this back to the library, but I remember that he looks at the film in the context of March’s other pre-code films, which often see him suffering from alcoholism, in tears and caught in a spiral of self-destruction. I’d be fascinated to see a few of these. LaSalle says that March says the line “I’m in hell”, which in this film he speaks to Muriel, in several other movies too. I do find his performance powerful and can see why he won the Oscar, though for me Barrymore is even better.

The Victor Fleming version of 1941, starring Spencer Tracy, seems rather weak and watered-down by comparison – there isn’t as much openness about sexual repression, although the opening, with a man screaming out abuse in a church, struck me as quite disturbing. Again, Jekyll is torn between “good” and “bad” women, but in this version Ivy (Ingrid Bergman) is a barmaid and singer without any suggestion that she is a prostitute, something made clear in the pre-code version.

For me the biggest problem with this version is that Tracy is miscast. I do usually like him as an actor, and think he is fine in the scenes as Jekyll, where basically he just plays the sort of character he usually plays – tough and slightly world-weary, with a sort of abrupt charm. But things go wrong as soon as he turns into Hyde. Unlike both Barrymore and March, he doesn’t have the sort of volatility to make him believable as a snarling psycho – he just seems to be going over the top, and it doesn’t help that he hardly has any make-up and still looks like himself! I feel pretty much the same about Tracy in this film as I do about Bogart (one of my very favourite actors) in another horror film, The Two Mrs Carrolls, where Bogie plays a tortured painter with a split personality – he too is fine in the more realistic scenes, but not where he has to chew the scenery and turn into a psycho. There’s the feeling of the studios shoe-horning both these fine actors into roles which just weren’t suited to their talents.

At first I thought Ingrid Bergman had been miscast, too – her attempt at a Cockney accent is wildly unconvincing, with every third word sounding Swedish. (Tracy sticks to his usual accent.) But after a minute or two, it’s clear this doesn’t matter – I think she is brilliant as Ivy, giving a shimmering intensity to her role, and seeming so terrified of Hyde that she makes him frightening to the audience. I’ve read that Bergman was originally supposed to play the good girl, Jekyll’s fiancee Beatrix, but wanted more of a challenge and swapped parts with Lana Turner. If this is true, then I definitely think Bergman made the right choice – for me this version is her film all the way. Turner is also fine as Beatrix, but has far less scope.