I watched Leave her to Heaven (1945) but unlike other films it’s stayed with me. I had every intention of watching The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) that night, I changed my mind at the last-minute and what a chance I took on this very dark yet starkly colourful film noir. I was considering how it would look if I was to convert a short section to the traditional black and white, so it would conform to the visual style of the genre. The longer the film was playing I knew that such an intervention would only be detrimental to the film. The contrast too high, the use Technicolor the dazzle and lure you into the dream world that is little more than an illusion. For what lies beyond the lake in the opening scene is trap which an innocent man falls into. What looks like a treat, the wide open countryside, the greenery hiding narrative that is about to unfold before us.
A quiet man – Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) lands of the water from a biplane that has brought him back home, a place that holds bitter-sweet memories and the start of a new chapter in his life and his new-found freedom. The lake I know is where the iconic boating scene takes place, but that has to wait, I want to see how it all unfolds, courtesy of his old friend and lawyer Glen Robie (Ray Collins) who allows us to flashback to their first meeting on a train. It’s all by chance that they meet, two strangers, but that end there when she’s Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) reading his novel on the train. This is only revealed in a later scene, but allows him to get closer to her, using a passage from his book to hook her under his own spell.
The chance encounters allowed to continue as the train stops in New Mexico, even staying at the same accommodation so far its a really nice coincidence that these two have met and been able to see each other is all pure Hollywood. As the Bernet family have come to a resort to scatter their fathers ashes. A connection to the late father and Richards made, they look the same, its uncanny or fate, I’ll let you decide in a bit. It’s clear that he’s falling for her, and she’s reeling him slowly as they get to know each other at the resort, its casual yet there’s an air of mystery. He’s enjoying all of this and even the temptation of her sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) who doesn’t even know he’s being tempted. Its one holiday brimming with 1940’s style temptation, something I’ll return to later.
The honey trap is finally triggered with the arrival of ex-lover and lawyer (running for district attorney) Russel Quinton (Vincent Price) when out of nowhere Richard and Ellen announce they are getting married. A shock not just to us, but to Richard whose as shocked as us, we have entered the realm of melodrama, the fast-moving unpredictable (take that lightly) world of storylines going off to the deep end. Have we just met the ultimate femme-fatelle of film-noir. This the first sign that this woman is not about to be walked all over. The traditional role of the man proposing to the womans dismissed, she is wearing the trousers in this relationship. We can see that Russel is no longer the object of her affections and this act tells him that she no longer wants him, its final, its fast its fantastically come out of nowhere to end one relationship and further another one, simply by moving her net from one man to another.
The melodrama element of the film is cleverly enhanced by the Technicolor, signalling the look of Douglas Sirk’s in the following decade. If we look even further forward to Gone Girl (2014) which I will touch on later we can see how the manipulating woman can really screw over her husband. Leave Her to Heaven is the first time we are really seeing a woman manipulate a married man. Sure film-noir is full of women who use and abuse men to their own means, usually the men are either single or on the run, or hopelessly in love with the women of the film. The man object of desire is the woman’s object of control, leaving the man broken and unable to go on. The trap laid here in New Mexico see Richard being emasculated, becoming the stay at home husband. When they finally marry, we meet his brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) who has spent the last few years in a sanitorium, having lost the use of his legs through unmentioned accident, it’s all about his recovery that speeds up with the arrival of his brother and new sister and law. She makes her mark in his life, she’s playing the big sister, wanting to earn his love. It doesn’t take much, this is the beautiful Tierney who glistens in a rare colour film.
Danny’s introduction in the film shows how Ellen’s starting to get into the family, adapting to married life, or adjusting her plans. We next see her in the doctor’s office, who she manipulates to withhold Danny’s discharge, before Richard enters when she announces that he’s coming home. Completely having control over the men and the situation in this scene. They are left bewildered and surprised, again another example of emasculation, the fear that women can rise up from the kitchen and take control, this shows the male fear of how far it could go. And boy does it go off to the deep end as the film progresses from the death of Danny that she doesn’t prevent, allowing him to drown, only looking on with cold contempt for the innocent boy who has given her only love. A classic scene that stays with you long after the film is over. She only gets worse, as she falls pregnant, however that would only bring more people into the relationship that she wants with Richard, keeping him solely for herself. Committing this awful acts, not so much for attention but to ensure Richard’s commitment to her, not so much the marriage but to stay under her control. Is this psychological domestic violence, it surely comes close.
The final nail in the coffin, literally and metaphorically is a suicide that she frames as murder on her sister. Seeing how the couple after seeing Richard drift away and back towards the temptation that is Ruth who has been around since Danny’s death. It’s a cold and calculated and all for maximum effect. Her death sparks a court-room drama ending that begins to answer the opening of the film, where has Richard been for two years, and how did he end up there. What makes it worse is that Ruth’s framed for the murder. Allowing for Vincent Price to return in what is probably a pretty substantial part for the actor even in a supporting role, he tears up the set with his performance, he’s in control, this is his world where he can see justice carried out against the family that had cast him aside in favor of the stranger. It’s just full of classic court-room scenes, adding to the drama that has already happened as we get closer to answering that question of how and why.
Coming back finally to Gone Girl which sees a manipulative wife, Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) who frames her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) for her murder. Of course the structure and plot are very different, combining flashbacks to explain how they both met, whilst also showing how both are coping and understanding the situation. Amy enjoying sticking the knife into his back for his infidelity. The use of media who share the “story” as it unfolds in the modern-day world of fast-moving over dramatised news, all for ratings. Amy and Ellen both have the upper hand over their husbands, more literally in Gone Girl when he finds a gift of Punch and Judy puppets. Nick begins to understand what is going on and knows ultimately hes trapped unless he can find a way to break free. Ellen goes even further, shes doesn’t just plan her death meticulously, she sees it through and is twisting the knife from the beyond the grave. Amy is not that brave, preferring to come back and honor the image of marriage. No such thought goes through Ellen’s mind. If anything Leave her to Heaven is really the darker film, if ever remade it would be far darker than Gone Girl leaving it in the dust in terms of psychology and violence. The media in the latter film really makes it more contemporary, it wouldn’t be needed for a Heaven remake. I just hope they never do that.
I’m becoming more aware of the post recession films that react to the financial crisis of 2008, the end of the last boom and bust, which saw huge corporations lose millions whilst the average man on the streets life just got harder as the living costs started to increase and jobs became a nightmare to find. I was drawn more than anything to The Company Men by the top-billing that was shared by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee-Jones and Kevin Costner.
What I found at first was a hard-nosed shipping company/corporation making another round of redundancies, this time affecting one of their best sales executives Bobby Walker (Affleck) who is a cocky salesmen who believes he will bounce back soon with a job that matches his skills and previously salary. Not what the audience knows to be true, having experienced the hard reality of the recession. Whilst we follow to more men at the company a divisional president Gene McClary (Lee-Jones) and Phil Woodward (Cooper) both long-time employees giving thirty years of their lives to this company that has had to take tough decisions to survive, restructuring and downsizing. The two remaining don’t like to see what is happening, seeing good hard-working people being made redundant. All with the help of human resources manager Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) whose seen as a hard-nosed b**** who doesn’t really care who goes.
We follow these three men as they each come to terms with the redundancies. We more easily empathise with Bobby who even with the help of his old employer looks for new employment, understanding the mounting rejection from prospective employers, who believe they are right for the job before having their hopes dashed after all the hollow promises that are made. I personally can understand the struggle to find a job, the pressure and competition for each position. It became disheartening at time with all the rejection that comes your way. More so for Bobby who knows he has to provide for his family who are relying on one source of income, it’s not enough to support the house which they may have to give up. He wants to portray the image of success which he has been used to for some time. An image that he believes will help in securing a new job. He needs to come down to earth.
Whilst for those still at the company things are looking grim as more tough decisions are being made, the face of the once simple shipping construction company becomes far more than it’s beginning. Especially for Gene (Lee Jones) who know longer knows his best and oldest friend Conal (Tom Kemp) who has risen to the top with all the trappings that to the average person are luxuries. Gene who lives a similar life has become jaded to it all and his wife who lives a luxury life. He wants nothing of it, wanting something far simpler.
Whilst for Phil (Cooper) along with Gene are later made redundant. For Phil a man nearing his sixties, his chances of being employed are slim as he soon finds out. Reality is hard to deal with, spiralling into a depression that reflects many who have been victims of the recession.
The Company Men shows the light at the end of the tunnel, when your job and life come crashing down, it;’s how you deal with it that. Falling to the lows that even those in corporations feel, something the majority of the population cannot easily relate to. Seeing the bankers of the world to be the cause of our financial trouble. They are like us, if we like it or not.It has a limited reach to the audience showing how redundancy can affect the average guy, to the executive. It’s only with Bobby’s brother-in-law Jack Dolan (Costner) a builder doing his best to survive in a bleak housing climate. He’s the really the only one we can truly relate to, a hard-working man, who has not had the great success and lifestyle of others. We see others who are struggling and accept anything they are given, something that comes harder to the likes of Bobby.
I don’t think films such as this and Margin Call (2011) will have a massive audience, they focus on the wrong people for a mass audience appeal and empathy. They do try to humanize those who suffer as a result of the crisis that like it or not also are effected. The Company Men (2010) does go some way to breaching that social gap, we all have bills to pay, payments to meet, lifestyles we want to maintain. So does it matter where on the food chain in the workplace you are when and if you do fall?
After being stuck in what seemed like the 1950’s for my film viewing recently, I needed to be pulled almost bang up-to-date with something that I had been finding the right time to watch, which this time was Argo (2012) this years Oscar winning film, after being snubbed in all the major categories bar the really important one – best picture, which is won. Somehow after getting up from it, I would have gone for Life of Pi (2012). I can see how it won however, the old Hollywood loving itself number which they pull out every-so-often. And it allowed actor/director Ben Affleck to still pick up one of those trophies. I could spend the review trying to argue why it shouldn’t have won, in place of Ang Lee‘s masterpiece of storytelling, but that argument has probably been had by now.
Instead I’ll focus on why it won beyond the point I just made which is blinding the obvious as C.I.A agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) is given the job of providing the best worst option of rescuing 6 hostages from Iran in the 1980 when Iranian and American relations were at their worst when America was offering asylum to one of their leaders. Add to that the coup they helped to pull off with the U.K. years before didn’t really help matters.
The idea that Mendez brings to the table is as crazy as it gets, to set up a fake movie, complete with crew as a cover-up in order to get the 6 U.S workers out of the country to safety. At first the idea is seen as a joke, the only joke that is serious enough to be given the green light. Allowing Mendez to fly off to Hollywood and set up this fake film. Which sounds odd when you think about it. (I could go on forever explaining the falseness of the film, when films are just illusions). Where he meets make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who finds the idea exciting, believing he will fit right in. Knowing that if they are to pull this off they need a fake crew and production company. All the back-story and material to make this all seem real. Even going as far as having a script reading at a convention. There is a clear counterbalance between the madness of the idea and the political tension that leans to madness in Iraq, needed to ease the situation. Turning then to find a producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) who would be mad enough to go along with it all. I’m not sure why Arkin was nominated for his supporting role which was more deserved by Bryan Cranston who had more screen-time and was with Mendez the whole way on the operation.
Once the plan is set-out and in motion in Hollywood, it’s time to head over to Iran to meet and train the hostages in order get them out with plausible stories, knowing their aliases inside-out and back to front. There’s a leap of trust that needs to be made by all of them, something that comes easier to some rather than others, especially Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy) who first persuaded them to leave the U.S. embassy when the riots began. his judgement is questioned when he fails to trust what is essentially their last hope to exit the country alive. If we didn’t have this tension the film would lose its attraction and become predictable. The rest of the hostages are more willing whilst still scared, especially when they go on a location scouting trip where things really heat up for the team.
The sense of danger is always there, even when we don’t see it, we feel it in the other scenes making all the more believable. The look of the film with the blend of new and archive footage is not that of seamless, instead an acknowledgement that this really took place, just being adapted slightly for the screen ratio. Whilst other footage is sewn more seamlessly to create the atmosphere of the time. Of course theirs a sense of nostalgia which goes with any film set in another period, mainly in the fashions and the set design. It all works perfectly.
Why did this win the best picture Oscar then? It was because Hollywood was part of a successful C.I.A mission and they wanted to celebrate that fact, It’s also a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s not too flashy and not too dark. Even with Affleck in the lead role he doesn’t come across as he owns the picture and no one else can touch it It’s about the hostages and how there were saved, giving them ample time. Whilst its competitors which I saw had their strengths, Life of Pi in the art of story telling and the use of C.G.I, whilst Lincoln was a superb depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) to abolish slavery and end the civil war, it was too long and taxing on the audience with all the speeches which can overshadow the grand and classic performances. Whilst I never saw nor was interested by Zero Dark Thirty, the discussion of torture may have hindered any real prospect of getting that all important award. Leaving it between Argo and Life of Pi for me.