Cowardice and Colonialism: The Four Feathers (1939)

FOUR FEATHERS, THE (1939)

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The novel that The Four Feathers (1939) is based upon was written by A.E.W. Mason in 1902, just a few short years after the Mahdist War ended. Containing far more detail and side-stories than any film version, its central theme, cowardice in the face of possible death, does rings true in the cinematic adaptations of the story. The primary character, Lieutenant Harry Faversham (John Clements) decides he cannot face the possibility of dying in battle. As such, he resigns from his commission in the army and does not join his friends, Captain John Durrance (Ralph Richardson), Lieutenant Burroughs (Donald Gray) and Lieutenant Willoughby (Jack Allen), as they head off to war. Following his withdrawal, they each send Faversham a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. That’s bad enough but it’s the fourth one that pushes him beyond what he can accept in himself, as a man and a soldier.

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An Actor’s Revenge: Theatre of Blood (1973)

THEATRE OF BLOOD

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“It was a marvelous role because I got to play eight Shakespearean parts in it, which is a feast for any actor. And I got to knock off eight critics. It was a story dear to the heart of any old actor. It was a dream to make and very real to me. I really understand the man who is doing his very best and yet is unrecognized.” – Vincent Price, discussing his starring role in Theatre of Blood (1973) from The Price of Fear: The Film Career of Vincent Price, In His Own Words by Joel Eisner

In 1970 Vincent Price became discouraged by the state of his career. He was acting regularly, writing cookbooks, appearing on stage and in a variety of television programs while generously supporting the arts as a member of the Royal Society of Arts, the Arts Council of UCLA and the Fine Arts Committee of the White House, but he agonized over his reputation. According to his daughter Victoria Price and author of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography, her father worried that he wasn’t taken seriously by his fellow actors due to his career choices. The lack of respect from his peers encouraged the 60-year-old actor to embrace the monstrous roles he had made famous. From mad doctors to witch hunters and a plethora of Poe villains and antiheroes, Price had perfected the role of a sympathetic scoundrel.

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Discovering Men Are Not Gods (1936)

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To view Men Are Not Gods click here.

One of the exciting thrills of being a film fan is that there are always new-to-me movies to be discovered. Throughout my journey as a cinephile, I’ve become a fan of actress Miriam Hopkins. I’ve always found her life both on and off the screen to be fascinating. This Georgia-born Southern girl was an anomaly: she was well-bred and well-educated, attending a prestigious private school while studying the performance arts. Hopkins started out as a dancer, but a career-ending injury steered her toward acting. After she signed with Paramount in the early 1930s, Hopkins experienced success rather quickly, working with directors such as Ernst Lubitsch, William Wyler and Rouben Mamoulian. It’s well known that Hopkins had a bad reputation among many of her colleagues. She struggled to find common ground with some of her co-stars (Bette Davis, for example, which was amplified for the publicity), resulting in hostile conditions on set. While she had a tendency to be difficult at times, Hopkins possessed a confidence and self-assuredness that so many actors of her generation attempted, but were unable to obtain. Considering my affection for Hopkins, I was delighted to discover the gem Men Are Not Gods (1936), produced by Alexander Korda and directed by writer Walter Reisch (Ninotchka [1939], Gaslight [1944], Niagara [1953]), in one of his few directorial efforts.

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Equal Shares for All: The League of Gentlemen (1960)

LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, THE (1961)

To view The League of Gentlemen click here.

The League of Gentlemen (1960) contains one of my favorite moments from postwar British cinema; a group of ex-soldiers carrying submachine guns plow through London’s narrow streets with their faces concealed behind gas masks. Instead of dodging an attack they are preparing to rob a bank and their military uniforms have been replaced by civilian clothing. These masked figures are the stuff of nightmares and conjure up horrific images associated with two world wars that nearly brought the British empire to its knees. Despite their ferocious appearance and felonious behavior, the men are not monsters. They are the forgotten casualties of war. Battle-scarred and bitter, they have returned home to discover that their prospects are dwindling. Jobs are scarce and survival is difficult during peacetime when your skill set is limited to sharpshooting, military strategy and bomb construction. Is it any wonder that they have chosen a life of crime to secure a future for themselves?

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Margaret Lockwood is The Wicked Lady (1945)

WICKED LADY, THE (1945)

To view The Wicked Lady click here.

“I’ve got brains and looks and personality. I want to use them!”
- Barbara Worth (Margaret Lockwood) in The Wicked Lady (1945)

During WWII, many British citizens were desperate for movies that allowed them to forget about the destruction and mayhem engulfing the world. Against the backdrop of war, it’s not surprising that female film viewers began flocking to historic melodramas offering a momentary escape. The horrors of modern combat were left at the ticket counter while audiences immersed themselves in another time and place. Gainsborough Pictures was at the forefront of this trend buoyed by a stable of attractive and talented actors that included James Mason, Stewart Granger, Patricia Roc, Michael Rennie and Margret Lockwood. Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes [1938], Night Train to Munich [1940], Cast a Dark Shadow [1955]) was Gainsborough’s most popular female performer and although she never had much success in Hollywood, the actress became a household name in Britain during the 1940s. Her voluptuous beauty attracted both sexes but women were particularly drawn to the strong-willed characters she portrayed and her most successful film was The Wicked Lady (1945), which is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel at FilmStruck.

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Manage Your Great Expectations (1946)

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946)

To view Great Expectations click here.

The phrase “read the book, see the movie” was something you heard a lot in the second half of the 20th century, and using a work of popular literature as the basis of a film was once considered a badge of honor. There are a few classic authors who can still hold that kind of cache today – Jane Austen, anyone? – but one of the biggies in Hollywood’s golden age was Charles Dickens, who inspired numerous films based on his works both short (A Christmas Carol) and epically long (Bleak House). And for my money, no one could adapt Dickens better than David Lean.

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A Look at David Lean’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945)

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To view Brief Encounterclick here.

It’s not often you come across a story centering around infidelity that is portrayed as sweet and innocent, deserving of the respect and empathy of its audience. In film, especially classics, adultery is typically met with some form of harsh punishment, particularly for the women involved. David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), based on playwright Noël Coward’s play Still Life (1936), offers a snapshot of the short-lived romance between two people stuck in the monotonous rut that life can occasionally works its way into. Lean’s film handles the delicate, complicated nature of infidelity with sensitivity and compassion. Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey (Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard) are not careless in their affair, at least not at first. They know that any kind of a future together is impossible. They acknowledge their spouses and families back home. They understand the social implications of an affair. Both Laura and Alec are seeking something that was lost long ago in their marriages. Perhaps a sense of adventure or simply yearning for that exciting feeling that comes with a new romance, if only for a brief moment.

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Losey Let Loose: The Criminal (1960)

CRIMINAL, THE (1960)

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Joseph Losey is one of my favorite directors so I was thrilled to discover that his work is currently being spotlighted at FilmStruck. While looking through the collection of films available to stream I was inspired to revisit The Criminal a.k.a. Concrete Jungle (1960), a low-budget British crime thriller about an underworld kingpin named Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) who organizes a high-stakes robbery that goes terribly wrong. When he finds himself behind bars a second time, Bannion has to rely on his brawn, brains, bravado and faith to survive.

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All You Need To Know About The Crying Game (1992)

CRYING GAME, THE (1992)

If you didn’t see it when it first opened, there’s really no way to describe the visceral charge that went through audiences when The Crying Game first started to roll out in select American theaters just after Thanksgiving in 1992. Bill Clinton had just won his first presidential election, grunge was exploding, the Cartoon Network had just launched and Sinéad O’Connor was still in the public consciousness after ripping up a photo of the Pope on live TV. Moviegoers were experiencing whiplash with a wild array of films like Unforgiven, Basic Instinct, Wayne’s World, Scent of a Woman and Batman Returns turning into significant hits by year’s end, not to mention indie smashes for Robert Altman with The Player and some newbie named Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs. It was a strange time.

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A Double Dose of Boris Karloff

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Life has been throwing me lots of curveballs lately and when I’m feeling low, I tend to gravitate towards what I like to call “comfort food films” and my comfort food tends to be classic horror films. During the cold winter months, cozying up on the couch with a warm beverage and a couple of creaky old black and white horror movies can make even the worse week seem manageable. Fortunately, I found exactly what I required streaming on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck, The Haunted Strangler (1958) and Corridors of Blood (1958). Both of these low-budget British thrillers were directed by Robert Day and feature standout performances from William Henry Pratt aka the one and only Boris Karloff.

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