Sudden Fear (1952): Joan Crawford’s Shock to the System

SUDDEN FEAR (1952)

To view Sudden Fear click here.

As the first season of water cooler sensation Feud has recently finished airing, it’s funny to reflect how certain movie stars tend to surge in public interest at random intervals. Case in point: Joan Crawford, whose films have been TCM and home video favorites among younger viewers and who is now enjoying her biggest pop culture awareness since Faye Dunaway turned her into a domineering camp icon in Mommie Dearest (1981). It’s become common for movie fans to pigeonhole much of Crawford’s work as campy or, more commonly, as “women’s pictures,” which tends to fence them off into some kind of minor category apart from all those war films and biblical epics.

Well, the joke’s on those critics considering how little Crawford’s films have dated and how many people still watch them. You can certainly be amused by Joan’s more outrageous ventures into the surreal, e.g. Torch Song (1953), but she was a woman who could grab that camera and hold your gaze stronger than just about any other movie star out there. Fortunately she had a work ethic that wouldn’t quit and made loads of films both within and outside the studio system, which means you can spend much of your love stumbling on a Crawford film that doesn’t get regular play. [...MORE]

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 Instead of dodging an attack they are preparing to rob a bank and their military uniforms have been replaced by civilian clothing.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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Smackdown: Wuthering Heights vs. Jane Eyre

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939)

To view Wuthering Heights click here and to view Jane Eyre click here.

Currently available on FilmStruck for your streaming pleasure is “The Brontë Sisters,” a modest selection of titles related to the works of England’s beloved novelists of the Romantic era. Included in the series are the classic-film versions of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1939) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1944). While both feature Golden Age stars that mesmerize with magnetism and captivate with charisma, does one film have the edge in capturing the ill-fated relationships and melancholy atmosphere of Gothic Romance?

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The Original Castaway: Robinson Crusoe (1954)

ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, THE (1954)

To view Robinson Crusoe click here.

Luis Buñuel, the controversial and much banned filmmaking genius, has become so associated with the surreal cinema that the idea of him directing a straightforward adventure seems, well, surreal. But in 1952, gaining funding for a joint Spanish and English language production of Robinson Crusoe (it wouldn’t be released until 1954), based on the 18th century novel by Daniel Defoe, Buñuel did just that, although Buñuel the iconoclast was never far out of sight. Starring Dan O’Herlihy in the title role, the movie invents just about every deserted island trope you’ve probably ever heard of (from the novel of course), but along the way, touches on some very controversial subject matter, both reflecting the time the novel was written, the time the movie was made and bigoted notions of the white man’s dominion over the earth.

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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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To Share or Not to Share: Kids and Classic Film

stagecoach1939_14

To view Stagecoach click here.

One of the things I like to write about most is the journey of introducing my daughter to classic films, especially my personal favorites. From the time she was about three, Ellie knew Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire by name. She mimicked the movements of Cyd Charisse, rolled around on the floor like Donald O’Connor, attempted pratfalls like Cary Grant and once pointed to a photo of Fredric March and said “Daddy.” I recently wrote a piece here at StreamLine about showing Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid to Ellie, a film I was originally hesitant to share with her due to themes of abandonment, adoption, poverty and classism. She handled it fine, and naturally had questions, which I was more than happy to answer. Education and context are both key to enjoying movies, especially ones that are from past generations, with different sensibilities and social norms. Because of my passion for classic film both as a hobby and a profession, movies and all the stories that surround them are often up for discussion in our home. Sometimes she’ll hear me mutter to myself as I jot down notes for future essays. I’m well aware that many classic films have content that is considered objectionable and inappropriate for children. From complex adult themes, misogynistic behaviors and crude racial stereotypes and bigotry, I always try to be extra cautious when it comes to exposing Ellie to this kind of content. I think we are all well aware that even the most family-oriented classic films can have problematic content. One of the examples I use is a line from one of my favorite comedies, and one that I’ve shared with Ellie: Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby. In it, Cary Grant’s nerdy David Huxley says: “That’s pretty white of Mr. Peabody.” It’s a line Grant says casually, but has a terrible and powerful meaning. Now, I typically take the approach of acknowledging overtly racist and sexist content and using it as a teaching moment, providing age appropriate context when needed (think along the lines of TCM’s old summer series The Essentials Jr.), but I’ll admit that many times, like in the case of Huxley’s comment on Mr. Peabody’s pleasant, generous disposition, I will leave things be until intervention is needed. A lot of things, especially dialogue, typically flies right over a 6-year-old’s head, so I’ll handle it when it needs to be addressed. Other than those little moments, I try to be vigilant.

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John Alton and Film Noir: Painting with Light and Shadow

RAW DEAL (1948)

To view Raw Deal click here.

A shadowy, expressive photography defines film noir. It creates the kind of heavy mood and atmosphere that the German Expressionists called stimmung. The genre seemed to bring out the best in cinematographers, but two have been singled out by scholars and historians—Nicholas Musuraca and John Alton.

Musuraca photographed noir favorites such as Out of the Past (1947) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953), while John Alton’s work in the genre was in B-movies for directors Steve Sekely (Hollow Triumph [1948]), Joseph H. Lewis (The Big Combo [1955]), and Anthony Mann. Alton shot six films for Mann; five of them are streaming on FilmStruck, including the noir Raw Deal (1948).

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Remembering Robert Osborne

ESSENTIALS, THE

This week we bid farewell to the patron saint of classic film, the venerable Robert Osborne. News of his death hit hard amongst the classic film community and beyond. Although he had been dealing with health issues in recent years and had taken an extended leave of absence from his hosting duties on TCM, many fans, myself included, hoped Osborne would eventually return in some capacity. While TCM has done a marvelous job of bringing in excellent new hosts and programming, the network won’t be the same without him; we will never hear those beautiful words “Hi, I’m Robert Osborne” again. I don’t know about you, but I’m not terribly happy about living in a world without Robert Osborne in it. His passing has left a giant hole in the heart of the classic film community. Fortunately, we have many beautiful stories of Osborne’s kindness and generosity in addition to interviews, books and articles featuring his knowledge and first-hand accounts of Hollywood legend and lore.

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From Flappers to Feminists: The Movie Versions of Chicago

CHICAGO, Phyllis Haver, 1927

When I lived in Chicago, I enjoyed learning the city’s history—not the events you find in text books but the city’s pop culture history. Chicago was that toddlin’ town where notorious gangsters opened red-hot nightclubs in which soon-to-be-famous singers and comedians launched their careers; or, serial killers trolled for victims at the larger-than-life Columbian Exposition of 1893; or, the yellow press turned nobodies into celebrities because the competition to sell papers was so cutthroat. (See last week’s post on the 1919 Black Sox baseball scandal.)

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Coup d’etat: The Embassy (1973)

1973_Embassy_image1

There is a coup d’etat in an unnamed country, and a group of dissenting artists and intellectuals pour into an embassy, seeking asylum. Chris Marker’s The Embassy (1973) is a provocative short film, shot on Super8, that manages to conjure an entire fascist state out of twenty minutes of footage of a few apartment rooms. It was made as a reaction to the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile, though the surprising location of the film is obscured until the final two shots. For the majority of the runtime you are in an unknown space, disoriented and thrust into internecine battles of the political left, still bickering as a country falls around them. Information is doled out solely by the narrator/filmmaker, who is inside the embassy shooting home movies of the panic within. The camera is handheld and mostly kept at a distance, it never gets inside arguments but circles outside them, hearing snippets but never the heart of the matter. But when facts do start trickling in, like how the new military government is executing dissidents at the nearby soccer stadium, ideological battles give way to plans for survival. The Embassy is streaming on FilmStruck in the Directed by Chris Marker theme, which collects 23 of his remarkable shorts and features.

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