Posts tagged “Billy Wilder

A Song is Born (1948)


As soon as I saw the description for A Song is Born (1948) I knew it sounded very familiar, so familiar that I saw the original only a few months ago – Ball of Fire (1941). Both directed by Howard Hawks and written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. I saw the original more for the smart writing than the direction. However I needed to see A Song is Born purely for comparison, what else I get is a massive bonus from a winning formula. I know that Hawks later remade Red River (1948) a few times as Rio Bravo (1959), El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970) of course after the first two the returns on entertainment were diminishing, but that’s a different conversation to be had. I considered talking about Ball of Fire back in June however, the writing, the comedy and the chance to see two of the golden ages finest on-screen together Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper; both versatile actors having fun.

My feeling on remakes or reboots is very mixed, first its not original to go back to the same plot and simply re-produce it with different actors. However it was just not long after the war and audience taste had changed, new actors were entertaining them. Could an old favorite be dusted off for a new audience to enjoy? That’s a risk that Hawks was willing to make. Ball of Fire one of the latter Screwball comedies, everything thrown at you, high-concept ideas and fast gags. Ball of Fire sure fits the bill, with out-of-touch professors who have lived together for too long now. Writing an encyclopedia, the professors each taking a few specialist subjects – Prof. Bertram Potts (Cooper) the linguist specialists and the youngest of the men, who were all born in the 19th century. It’s only when he hears slang that is fresh to his ears is is mind opened to a new world that he had ignored up until now. Going into the outside world for research, handing out his card to those he ear-wigs on, new words and phrases that he wants to understand more about – inviting them for group research. Its really quaint when you look at it now. All this before he ends his day at the nightclub where he discovered club singer Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanwyck) who delivers line after line of slang that makes little sense, but livens up the whole film from just being a ‘got to save the day’ film to something far more exciting. I’ll leave the synopsis there for now.

Now turning to the remake A Song is Born in more detail, you have a tried and tested duo in Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo much like Cooper and Stanwyck, both couples having chemistry. The similarities between the two films are quite striking from the beginning. I could list them all but that would be tiresome. Instead I’ll focus on a few. The first being the setting of the research institution is the same in terms of the set-design a quick recycle and change of plaque on the front before the daughter Miss Toten (Mary Field) who played the same role in both films. Now does this show clever thinking or laziness in not recasting and refreshing the role. The re-use of the set is easily explained as cost-cutting, unless we are seeing into Hawks thinking, is he trying to perfect a film the film that is in his head, based on “From A to Z”. The threat of funding being withdrawn is exactly the same too, leading to Toten being charmed by Professor Hobart Frisbee (Kaye) who she’s secretly attracted to, but exploited here so much. I’m starting to see the differences, the book they are working on, has a greater focus on music, an encyclopedia of all knowledge which only as out of touch as those writing it. Both groups of men are so wrapped up in the past they have forgotten the world outside.

Music is a stronger focus for the characters than just EVERYTHING, still very niche and rich, it allows the Kaye return to a world he is very much associated with, the musical. All courtesy of musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey. Of all of the musicians I’ve only heard of Armstrong, all of who though assume the roles of working club musicians, playing Jazz, swing, doo-wop etc, all exciting Frisbee, inviting them back to the institution, not for a Q & A but a performative exploration of music. Taking away the old blackboard and chalk and replacing them with a recording system.

All this before I’ve reached Virginia Mayo’s role of the club singer and gangsters girlfriend. On reflection I feel she was mis-cast in the role that is too dark for her. She does her best by playing up the comedy and musical numbers to compensate. More there as part of a package deal, you want Kaye, you get Mayo, it’s a partnership that’s proven, so why change it? What really lets her and Kaye down though is the recycling of script that is hardly altered really. On the surface it may sound different yet it leads to the same conclusions and jokes. There is a wonderful breakfast scene when Kaye comes down stairs to completely mess up his meal, unaware of what he’s doing, wrapped up in his new experience of love.

The film has it’s positives but I feel it’s weighed down by deja-vu to really be an original and fresh film. I feel that Hawks was either trying to work out a bad part of a film, ironing out the faults to deliver something better. Is that just for his ego though, or was he told by those higher up, your making a film with these two, think of something fast. And here’s the result. A film that has a good formula, with plenty of jokes, I did actually laugh and in the right places. However I was constantly comparing it with whats ultimately a far superior film which sparkles and crackles. An interesting early Wilder picture, who had to wait until 1942 to direct. His original script is merely re-used and reworked, which shows how fast the remake was put into production.

Like I wrote earlier I could go into detail on every scene but that would serve little purpose and I wouldn’t enjoy doing it, finding fault in a minor film that forms a body of work in a director – Hawks who could produce some classic films that stand the test of time, lets call this a mis-fire and move on.

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Sunset Boulevard (1950) Revisited


sunset-boulevard-1950There’s a reason why some actors/actresses decide to steer clear of living in Hollywood, it’s full of crazy people who have lost touch with reality. Out there to chase their dreams that may never happen. Taking a normal job, going to auditions, writing scripts, following any lead that could be their big break. It stinks of desperation and dreamers who have lost the plot, or are driven and won’t be pulled back into the world of the living, the sane with us who know to stay on the right side of the silver screen. Only the lucky few are picked, get the call and go over and make the big time. Then you have to apply the old saying “whatever goes up, must come down” tell that to Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) one of the victims of the introduction of sound. The screen didn’t get smaller, in fact its blown wide open by those early talkies as everyone began to rush to that “gimmick” with all they could, seeing actors old and new change in a matter of years. You can see the effect of progress crystallised in a few films, but none of created a victim of that progress as frightening as Billy Wilder in his chilling take on Hollywood with Sunset Boulevard (1950). Having been in tinsel town for almost 20 years he had he own fair share of stories to tell, but they would be true, and that would be unfair on those who have given him all he has made in this foreign country he calls home.

It’s been a few years since I first caught this striking film, a dark comment on an industry that Wilder was more than willing to use as material. My thoughts on the film have had time to mature and change over that time. I’ve taken in many, many more films, a small portion commenting on the industry that produces them. We’ve just seen a film briefly win Best Picture before being snapped away due to an admin error. Hollywood loves the praise itself, but sometimes the ego’s been stroked a little too often and a conscience for the better film to be honored props up, declare Moonlight (2016) the winner over La La Land (2016) which was a front-runner for what seems a year since it was first premiered.

However if we go back to 1950 it’s a very different time and the golden age is starting to crumble after the studio system was being broken down by both Washington and the stars who made the studios so powerful. The only real power was censorship, which was skirted by Wilder. American cinema was entering a new age of the psychological, the fear of the Soviets, the first decade of peace, after WWII was still uneasy with the war on communism being fought in Korea.  With all this going on Hollywood is ripe for he picking.

If we go back to the dawn of sounds we see numerous careers being ended, the fear of rejection and uncertainty in an industry of replace and progression. Culminated here in Norma Desmond, one of the first film stars to be let go or forgotten, or as we learn simply too much to handle, one of the first diva’s. Of course the dark twist is that she’s played by Gloria Swanson one of those much forgotten once celebrated actors whose own fame had since faded. Was this a version of herself, a pastiche of the silent era stars, would the audience be able to tell the difference. A dastardly piece of casting, of course Swanson knew exactly what she was doing. A heightened version of what her generation could now be. The self-awareness she brought, the history which could still be hers if she hadn’t found another career, whilst also having a minor acting career was all but forgotten. The fact she carried on, shows how she adapted to the introduction of sound. Just where did she find the unhinged Desmond that is very much part of that desire to be famous, once the attention has gone, how does the individual adapt to life post-fame? Desmond is the ultimate forgotten star.

Add to that a version of Wilder and Charles Brackett who co wrote this film, their view of the system for an aspiring script-writer. Is Boulevard a culmination of their experiences, did the encounter a Greta Garbo or Mary Pickford who was lost in the transition now living in a delusion of grandeur in the Hollywood hills. The writer and the narrator here is Joe Gilles played by William Holden an actor of the new confident age of sound, two generations sharing the screen. Gilles the struggling writer is knee-deep in debt, he can’t get a script green-lit for the life of him, his cars threatened with repossession. When will he get a break? It’s only when he gets a flat during a car chase does he find a mansion that wouldn’t look out-of-place in Citizen Kane (1941). Shelter was the storm that is his collapsing world. On meeting Desmond a has-been, his life’s being turned on its head, both using each other to their own ends, nothing new there.

So who has the upper hand here? It starts out as Gilles who takes on Desmond overblown untamed screenplay meant for the silent screen rather than a contemporary audience, OK maybe the arty world might like it. A script that relied more on the eyes, the facial gestures rather than dialogue to progress the plot. Relying on titles of varying length instead. It’s Gilles’s task to adapt and tame this beast of a script, without upsetting the original writer’s ego. Of course this soon gets out of hand, the writer finds that he’s been moved in to the house now. His life is no longer his own, in a trap of gifts and love of an older woman who see’s him as her way back to the big or small screen – depend who perspective you look at it. He want to use her script for his next big film, can he make it work for both.

It’s a film ultimately of professional back stabbing, who can walkover who first and hardest and still prosper. We see from the beginning that it hadn’t worked out too well for someone who is hovering dead in the swimming pool. A classic trope of Film noir, start at the grizzly demise of someone and work backwards, just how did this guy end up in the pool, I don’t think he tripped? What we see in the course of the film is two figures hungry for fame eat away at each other. One with step in the door, whilst another is just a shadow. Littered with figures from a forgotten age of cinema, a nod to them and a reminder that they were still around, they just be playing cards had to carve out a life post fame.

Last it also works perfectly as a comment on an industry, Paramount Pictures included that released the film is ultimately a business that will pick up and drop the next big thing to make a few bucks. The kind of cynicism that Wilder is known for. It’s a method that still works to this day, one day your hot, then you make a flop and out you go NEXT!! That’s show-business for ya.


Mad City (1997)


Mad City (1997)I must confess that I first attempted to watch Mad City (1997) a few years ago, gave it a few minutes and gave up on what I thought was a cheap and stupid hostage film. Then a few months ago I shared Ace in the Hole (1951), which gained a response on Twitter. As I’ve been revisiting films I thought it should only fair to check this film out again when it made itself available to me. I couldn’t see the connection myself between the cynical Billy Wilder classic which I now can see is see is the first of its type of films about driven journalists to get their big story and of course claim all the glory for it too.

And so begins another compare and contrast review between the two films that are almost 50 years apart. The basic ideas of both films are the centre of them. We have a gap in-between with Network (1976) that shows how far the media will go for a story, brought bang up-to-date with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), which really show the extremes to which a New channel will go to for ratings.

However it’s not about ratings or readership for either Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) or for Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) who we find at the bottom of the barrel, an unknown little paper and a small local TV station who are in 9th place. It’s a more personal dilemma for these two who have reached personal rock-bottoms after a number events that have lead them almost give up on journalism altogether. It’s only by chance that they hit upon a story that gains more attention then they’ve had before, and not for wanting it. What makes them both stand apart is the men who play them. admittedly I think Douglas has this role nailed, the drive and determination come to the actor far easier than the more sensitive Hoffman who is by far the more versatile actor, so equal for different if that makes any sense.

If I leave Wilder’s original to focus on the latter which has more of an impact even nearly 20 years later if this film was to be made again it would be more like Nightcrawler (2014) , instead of waiting for the story to break you break into the story, capture and sell. Brackett is just a very lucky man in a bad situation, after recording a piece of “fluff” or public interest he unwittingly walks into a hostage situation led by recently fired Sam Baily (John Travolta) who wants to get his job back at the museum which is facing closure. So everyone’s going through bad times at the moments, the journalist stuck in a dead-end station, an unemployed security guard and a curator Blythe Danner is trying to keep her museum open. The next three days are the last thing she wants.

I think what makes this film that much darker than the cynical original is the effect that the journalist has on the public and other journalists who’re drawn to this story, well it’s not a story it’s a crime scene or situation that has developed and been moulded into a new-story that for the length of the film just keeps on giving. Brackett knows all the tricks in the book to ensure that everyone outside, even the police ensure he can carry on inside and out. He manipulates the seemingly innocent (to the attention) Sam who want his job back, he has no real plan, even though he carries a blunderbusses and a bag of dynamite. Caught in all of this are a class of children and a fatal mis-shooting that only makes the hostage situation worse. You could say Mad City is a combination of Ace in the Hole and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) which really does go all wrong too fast, played more for laughs than the drama that fuels the black comedy bank robbery.

Going back to Ace in the Hole again the attention that’s generated is only limited by the culture, and the technology. People come from all over the country to hear about the guy trapped in the abandoned hole. The advancement of technology has only blown a small town hostage into something far, far bigger than Tatum could imagine but would still have eaten it all up. Of course in both films all of this build up comes with its own consequences, as much as they believe they have been helping to build and maintain all comes crashing down before them. With the promise of a successful future they both grow a conscience, a shred of morality which they have been lacking, the public caught up in all of this hysteria are blameless in all of this.  

Mad City is a clearly an update of Ace in the Hole which is much forgotten like this lesser known film with two strong actors. Why is that though? I think because the media moves so fast that the clunky kit that we see has been long lost. Journalists still run around like vultures for the next hot story, the public caught up in it can’t help but sell their story of the money is right. City is one of the lesser known films that you can still watch and not think what were those actors thinking?

 


Winchester ’73 (1950) Revisited


Winchester 73 (1950)I’ve watch three James Stewart films in the last week, culminating in Winchester ’73 (1950) which is probably the more iconic of them. Beginning with The Spirit of St Louis (1957) which I watched more out of curiosity than anything, a biography written and directed by   Billy Wilder . It was an interesting effort, the only time that Wilder dabbled with factual events, there were hints of his wit, however watered down by history. If it wasn’t for Stewart at the helm, combined with his past war record in the U.S. Airforce. Hearing some of the sharper lines delivered from Stewart didn’t really have the desired effect. With fiction Wilder is able to have a lot more fun with the characters, only able to do so here through flashbacks that did more for padding the film out as Lindberg made his ground-breaking transatlantic flight. Maybe in the hands of another director more used to biopic’s this could have been something special.

Turning then to The Naked Spur (1953), the third collaboration for   Anthony Mann and James Stewart they hit a slight snag with this lower budget affair. A smaller cast of characters, there’s potential for more tension and drama than there is on-screen. It just doesn’t spark your attention. If we turn back to their first film together Winchester ’73 (1950), Stewart’s first straight Western, needing to find a new direction in his career in a post-war world. He has seen the darker side of life whilst at war, which comes through into his performance that show more to the master of the every man. Before he was a bumbling and love-able man who got himself in all kinds of situations. It was It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) changed that for him, a man with good intentions, dreams whose brought to the brink, nearly ending his own life. Never had we seen that side of him. Anthony Mann developed that side of him out in the West where as could “play out all kinds of cide” in the American landscape.

So why watch these two films in reverse order? sheer luck of how the cards were dealt at the time. I needed to remind myself of this classic western which I watched at least 4 years ago. Following not the journey of just men, but that of a gun, a powerful emblem in the West. Part of the constitution to bear arms, it helped the country win the West. Yet today there is a fight for gun-control, there’s not a month that goes by in the States a mass-shooting takes places. There’s a warm place in the hearts of the American public, a protector for the weak, a sign of strength, and danger to the powerless. Going back to the film was a chance to rediscover how rich this film really is. Not just starting a long relationship between actor/director but changing the course of Stewart’s career to be part of the American mythology that is the Western.

I should really start now, set in an dream-like version of the West a shooting contest in Dodge City home of the infamous Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) who doesn’t really add much to the on-screen mythology of the historical figure. He definitely runs the town, ironically with an iron fist in regards to gun-control, his office is full of gun-belts. He is also considerate of the tone of the town, sending barroom singer Lola Manners (Shelley Winters) on her way for the contest, not wanting to lower the tone. Much to the surprise of Lin McAdam (Stewart) and High Spade (Millard Mitchell) who are in town for McAdam to track down fast-gun Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). On first meeting they naturally go for their guns, met by a feeling of nakedness that men in the West rarely have. Stripped partially of their masculinity and a right to defend it. You can feel something palpable in the room, they share a history that I barely remembered from the first viewing, not wanting to shout it out before the reveal at the end.

This could be the start of a standard Western, a silent stand-off before a show of masculinity in the streets. Naturally Stewart wins the much prized repeating rifle a Winchester 73, a weapon that is even admired by the young boys, part of the image of being a man. The history of the gun in the West is further explored in other films but not the aspect of the objects journey through a film, as it passes from owner to owner. Usually taking on a fictional version of facts of entertainment value. Here we have pure story and journey as it leaves after a fight in town with Brown to then be lost in a game of cards with Joe Lamont (John McIntire) an Indian trader who gambles his life when he tries to hide his find from Young Bull (Rock Hudson) who dies with it in battle. It brushes by Mcadams leaving it for Waco Johnny Dean (Dan Duryea) to take it into a gunfight where it in turn looses it.

The journey goes on until the rifle is reunited with Mcadams in a gunfight to end all gunfights between himself and Brown. The big reveal of their past is laid bear in a few scenes and a gunfight that relies more on knowledge that the accuracy of the gun itself. The skill of the man using the weapon truly make it what it is. A tool, is only as good as the man/woman who uses it, if you don’t use it the right way, not just as it was designed, you never unleash its potential or understand it. So why did McAdams want to win the gun? Was it to prove a point to Brown or to himself that he hadn’t lost his edge, the skills he was taught by his father. The journey that happens with the gun proves that it’s just a gun, that what happens to the user was going to happen anyway, it can bring out the best and the worst in us. It’s a tool that can make or break a man in the West.

I had forgotten how action-packed this film is, it has everything you want in a western as we ride on through, never looking back. Bringing together a cast that would work again with Mann and Stewart. A stock company that could even rival John Ford‘s. Even the main female is anything but set-dressing, she has teeth and not afraid to show them. Of course playing the voice of reason in the film, she can stand-up for herself, no one is left on the sidelines which makes this an important Western in the cannon of the classic genre.

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In a Lonely Place (1950)


In a Lonely Place (1950)I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 1950 was a very introspective year for Hollywood, in terms of the films it was releasing, looking in on it self, with the addition of this early Nicholas Ray film noir that shows he doesn’t always needs blistering saturated colours to convey the pent-up frustration that his characters feel as they are pushed into a corner. We’ve seen it before with the young lovers on the run in They Live By Night (1948), the lynch mob that hunts down a woman in Johnny Guitar (1954) to most famously the misunderstood teenager of Rebel Without a Cause (1955). It’s not just the young and women who are in these positions, older and once successful screenwriters in In a Lonely Place (1950) such as Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) who was once on-top has reached a low that he may never get out of.

Given the opportunity to turn the latest sensational novel into a film he has been given the chance to make his name again. If only he liked the material, just another melodrama that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. Inviting back a young woman who can recite the book to him, sounds innocent enough right? Not when the same girl Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) is found dead the next morning, he was the last person to be seen with her could he really be the killer? He has the temperament to do such a thing, but why would he after giving her taxi money, it doesn’t make sense. A young girl who has so much ahead of her found strangled. Steele’s only chance of being saved is an alibi that is given by his neighbour Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) who seemingly gets him off the hook.

His violent past and record leave doubt in the minds of those investigating the murder. The audience is certainly left guessing, we doubt his innocence the more we learn from Det. Sgt. Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) his old army friend investigates. Almost certain that it’s Steele that has killed the young woman. We have only Laurel’s alibi to keep him in the clear and that’s not exactly airtight as it only covers the early evening when the woman was still alive. She slowly grows close to him in classic Hollywood style, falling for his charms and dangerous ideas. Not fully aware of what he is capable of. We see him put under immense strain by the police as the is questioned multiple times. He goes over the murder himself as if it were one he wrote himself. A coping mechanism maybe or was he the killer.

As the film progresses, so does romance between the two, softening up around Laurel enough to write that screenplay he’s asked for. He has come alive in more ways than one, all his passions are awoken. Be careful what you wish for as he begins to unravel, we see the rumour’s become fact, a monster is waking up before us. Is he the killer we still ask ourselves, as we even back him into a corner. Bogart could easily play either the good the bad or the flawed guy wanting, show the range of this incredible actor whose time on-screen was prolific and dark. Opposite one of the film-noir’s classic blonde-bombshells Gloria Grahame who softens from the hardened abrasive neighbour to the lover living in fear.

Where does this fit into Ray’s work though? At the beginning of his directing career, given what was probably an assignment to complete, lucky enough to work with these two actors who made this film a classic. Looking inside Hollywood to find a dark underworld of murder, lies and mistrust. Much like Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Blvd. (1950) which delves even further into that world of dog-eat-dog. Ray has yet to come out to give us more emotion that I found in They Live by Night or as late as Bigger Than Life (1956) with all its pent-up emotion just wanting to release. He has still produced a classic of the period that still works today and shows how great Bogie can be and whats better than that?

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Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)


Charlie Wilson's War (2007)It’s been a while since my last review, not finding the time or the right film to talk about, so I’m hoping to return with the final film by the late director Mike Nichols which I have been eyeing up for sometime. Nudged more so by his death late last year. I did catch Working Girl (1988) seeing more than just a comedy, but something with a bite, almost as sharp as Billy Wilder if I dare make such a comparison, not so heavy on the cynicism yet still not afraid to say what they wanted to.

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) was not really worth the build-up I was giving it, only slightly though, coming away with more a “look what happened next” feeling after Texan congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) arranges for weapons to be given to Afghanistan to defend themselves against the obvious Soviet threat. Set during the tail end of the Cold War it felt more like the 1960’s visually, the colour and lighting was cranked up, even with all the 80’s hairdo’s it felt to soft to be only the late 1980’s. That’s only my first criticism, the combination of stock news footage and new footage can be jarring at times as we fly through the mountains of Afghanistan. The polished helicopters look too superficial, not war torn to really have been there. Like a computer game before all the dirt was added to the vehicles.

On the acting front I was waiting for Philip Seymour Hoffman the CIA agent Gust Avrakotos who has been waiting for a bigger challenge. Whilst upstairs in the White House money and weapons are changing hands thanks to the influence of two Texans, one congressman and the sixth wealthiest woman in Texas Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) who influence those who have the real power to make things happens. On the surface you can see this as America rising to the challenge to help a nation in need. Whilst always in the background you have the Cold War and the seeds of Al Qaeda being sewn at the same time. It could be a heavy film, the Cold War has never been a comfortable conflict to sit through for a film, too much cynicism and implied fear, nothing really substantial. So much potentially at stake politically, yet in the hands of Nichols you don’t really feel it, with so much else going on, it takes the edge off until Gus brings us back to reality. 

Hanks plays the usual good guy here with ease, whilst Roberts is really the one having fun here, if only she had more screen time. The film feels too short for what is going on. Once the weapons are delivered it’s a swift montage of news clips of that 1987-88. Why didn’t we see anything of Reagan? If only for the presidential presence of this underhanded chivalry, America once again to the rescue, with its feet tip-toeing on the ground, something you don’t see in many film. I guess that was part of Nichols magic bringing the reality back to the American dream, you can have it all but remember the reality of the situation. You can get carried away if you let yourself.

The timing of the release film is also key, America at war with two countries, the War on Terror in full swing, never really looking back to the root causes of these terrorist organisations get their weapons. You don’t have to go back to far before you go “oh yeah maybe we/you shouldn’t have done that” A critical part of modern history, aiding a future enemy fight a present one. Of course theres more to it than that. Charlie Wilson’s War makes the audience think about how this war all started, not with 9/11, that may never have happened if 1987 had not happened. Still we can’t live in blame culture, we have to accept what has happened and deal with the present. It’s a cautionary tale that puts a lump in your throat. Maybe I can forgive my earlier negatives with my recent conclusion.


Ace in the Hole (1951)


Ace in thr Hole (1951)I knew Ace in the Hole (1951) wasn’t Billy Wilder’s finest film and for reasons I will go into as I discuss the film. Coming off the back of the very successful Sunset Boulevard (1950) which is considered a classic was a highly charged film-noir which really sizzled in the writing and acting. A satire of the Hollywood system how it creates stars, only to dump them when their popularity wanes. You can’t help but see Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in her deluded state descended preparing for her close-up as her mental state peaks. Taking has-been screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) down with her in a honey trap that promised great things for him. Anyway enough about getting ready for close-up and more about getting back to New York for down and out writer Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) who won’t accept that he’s failed as a journalist, big ideas of big stories, made up to sell papers has again and again back-fired on him. None of the big papers want to know him. He tries his luck in a paper in Albuquerque, ran be an editor who wants to up-hold the truth, reporting the small stories in life. Gives this once big player a job after being promised great things. Surrounded by small town people who are happy with they’re lot.

On the face of it we have another Joe Gillis here in the world of journalism, wanting to make his way back up to the top. Even with Douglas in the role, giving one of his best performances as a man driven by desire to succeed, falls into a nasty trap of being too cynical for the audience to really swallow and enjoy. After spending a year at the paper he was expecting to be back on top. Not staring opposite a cross-stitch of  “Tell the truth” a pillar of good respectable journalism, which drives him to distraction. His news is about sensation, increases circulation and the big scoops which make him successful.

When he’s sent out of a routine story which has become the norm for him. With an eager young colleague in tow they come across a petrol (gas) station where the owner has been trapped inside a n Native American cave, buried under the rubbles from rotten supports. This is too good to pass up, jumping on this now “human” story, making it his own, an exclusive scoop. When all those around him want to get him out fast. Even the poor guy Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) wants to get out. Everyone outside is slowly wrapped around his finger as he orchestrates a media sensation, drawing thousands of people to this once quiet spot in New Mexico. The idea of getting him out quick is soon dashed with the sherif bribed with hopes of re-election in sight.

All this for one man to get back to the city, to deliver the stories he was meant to write. A man trapped by circumstance and his ego that leads to his destruction. A role made for Douglas who personally is a vain man who never really plays a good or a bad-guy, you never know what you’re getting when he’s on-screen. Which works here more than I have seen before. The subject matter so soon after Wilder’s earlier film of a writer not a winning formula every time, as he shows us the outsiders view of America. This is too much even today we have just had the Leveson enquiry wrap up this year in the UK that was in response to phone-hacking, journalists in the city never seem to learn. Any and all efforts go into getting a story.

Tatum is a personification of that need for a story that could have lasted a few days, stretched out into this circus he created. A modern day attraction for the average person to flock and stare at. It’s sickening today to have cars slowing down past car-accidents on the motorway for a picture or for a video. Our need to escape the everyday has not changed, it’s grown stronger for some to see what we have in the media. To see this first hand is too good to pass-up. If only this was made with more heart and humour, not the focusing solely on the writer. The Minosa family is in there somewhere but not delved into enough. There are also hints of being a western however slim they maybe too, with the New Mexico setting and the Native American imagery. There is a complete disregard for the sacredness of the land, treated as an attraction for tourists, a people now little more than a figment in the countries history. It’s not really touched on, yet you can see it in the imagery of the head-dresses worn by children, iconography that has become mass-produced souvenirs.

I’m glad to say that Wilder was back on form when it came around to the P.O.W. caper Stalag 17 (1953). Maybe the gap in production gave Wilder time to reflect and rediscover his strengths which kept him going through the decade. Ace in the Hole is by no means his worst film, I have yet to see that for myself. I won’t even guess which one that maybe, only after viewing it will I know. This was more a stumble from a great height to produce a poor copy of a better film. What makes it watchable is Douglas’s performance, one of sheer passion a man neither black or white and definitely a personification of the big city journalist.

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My Week with Marilyn (2011)


My Week with Marilyn (2011)One of a new wave of films that go behind the scenes of classic films recently, not all successful either. My Week With Marilyn (2011) is probably one of the earlier releases, focusing on a much forgotten (MarilynMonroe film The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) when one lucky third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who spends a week in the blonde bombshells company. It sounds better than it really is for him. A dream come true for anyone in the film industry, as I read in Jack Cardiff‘s autobiography Magic Hour: A Life in Movies who spent many a night with Marilyn and Arthur Miller during their time in the U.K. whilst filming the much forgotten film (unless you are a Monroe or (LaurenceOlivier fan) we do get an insight into the fragile life that Monroe lived.

The backdrop of the film is immaterial with the brief romance (of sorts) between Colin and Marilyn who gave her the confidence to stay and work on the production. Plagued by her fears and rocky marriage, it was Colin who was able to comfort her. And for him a dream come true as we find out. Of course the grand history doesn’t take him into account really, just a brief footnote. Whilst an exciting part of our film history. To see it on the big screen seems a right move to make. Moving onto the film itself which is brief, as the encounter between the Colin and Marilyn. It’s filled with well known faces from British cinema, filling the roles that we know so much about. Only Michelle Williams from across the pound filling the all important title role. A hard job to pull off really, rising to the challenge, moving beyond impression to giving a suggestion of her during that time. Taking on such a legendary figure will never be easy to do as we have discovered with Alfred Hitchcock in both his incarnations.

Whilst there is less pressure on the other roles (with exception to Kenneth Branagh‘s Olivier). It’s a gentle trip down into nostalgia really. With everyone you want to meet surrounding that era. Even the obscure figures that you wouldn’t think would be in the film.

Rightly so the films point of view is Colin’s, that without we would have no story, in practically every scene, any other way wouldn’t seem right really. With a clear focus and love for Monroe who once again shines on the screen, a rare chance t see a fragile woman who is filled with pills and Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) who controlled the actress, and was half the problem for the director Monroe worked with. I can’t help thinking about how Billy Wilder dealt with her whilst making film her and “the bat”.

It’s an interesting insight into a little know story, made all the more attractive with the allure of Monroe who may not be exactly the same. It seems as less and less original films are being made today, that mini-biopics of classic Hollywood is a decent alternative, harking back to a time when there was more originality and star power that created legends and history that is now wrapped in myth.

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The Seven Year Itch (1955)


The Seven Year Itch (1955)I’ve been meaning to watch this for sometime, I am fascinated to see how Marilyn Monroe’on screen image developed up to her early death in 1963. Here in another Billy Wilder comedy The Seven Year Itch (1955). By the time of its release Monroe’s public image had been sealed as a blond bombshell and very little else, unable to grow as an actress up until her death.

Focusing on the film now which struggled with the Hays Code to even get made, after taking the smash-hit Broadway play about a husband who has an affair whilst his family are away took on a new form, mostly in the shape of Monroe opposite the plays original leading man Tom Ewell (Richard Sherman) who struggles to control himself in the face of overwhelming passions and beauty that lives upstairs.

Plagued not only by the temptations of upstairs his is own worst enemy, his imagination which we see projected throughout the film. We can see where compromises where made and to great effect, as if his conscience and that of the production code come together to produce some funny moments. Whilst almost blissfully unaware is the naive Girl (Monroe) who is just enjoying herself. Something that Richard is all to aware of, getting carried away in his actions not long after he has waved his family on holiday during the heat wave in ManhattanAlready trying not to smoke or drink, another temptation is laid at his door (balcony).

We follow this man as he tries to get on with his life whilst his family are way, faced with such beauty, knowing that other men are already having their cake and eating it. For me its the effect of Sherman’s imagination that runs away with him all the time that is his worst enemy, as we see for ourselves, the influence of other mediums such as books and films has affected his own imagination to the point where he looses all contact with reality at times. It also personifies the worlds relationship between the world and Monroe which lead to her sad death 8 years later. With the subway dress scene which help cement her public image, an image she was sadly trapped in.

All to great comical effect in Wilder fashion, leaning over the edge of perceived public decency, giving the audience what it wants. Especially those who may have seen the Broadway play to now see the film adaptation, a completely different piece, full of compromise that is overcome in the form of Monroe who is hard to ignore from her presence to her actions that forgive it all. The affair never really happens, nothing unadulterated really happens, it all suggestive and in the mind of Sherman and the viewer which understands bringing their own take on what happens.

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Sabrina (1954)


Sabrina (1954)I went into this film mainly for the direction of Billy Wilder for Sabrina (1954), not so much the female lead of Audrey Hepburn who I saw as a woman with her head in the clouds, which now is all part of her charm. My eyes are more open to her appeal as a film-star. In terms of acting my mind is yet to be made up completely.

Beginning with my old perceptions I began this film wondering where it who Sabrina Fairchild (Hepburn) would fall for, I knew this was the aim of the film, I wasn’t put off by how straight forward it appeared, knowing there was more to the longing of a chauffeurs Thomas Fairchild (John Williams) who had devoted her affections from afar for the Larrabee’s charming son David (William Holden) very much a ladies man with a big heart, who had already been through 3 marriage, not exactly good material for someone who is blind to what David may really be like.

To stop her going mad with her obsession that would never come true her father sends her away to a French cooking school to learn new skills and more importantly to get her mind of David. A very dated idea today but that doesn’t matter in the world of Hepburn who tries her best to concentrate, her mind always being thousands of miles away, until an elderly man takes her under his wing, she begins to blossom and grow as a woman.

Whilst back home in Long Island the industrial Larrabee’s are hoping to invest in the new and exciting possibilities of plastic, which is far away from the world of Paris. Lead by the hard-working Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart) who will do what ever it takes to make it happen. Even marrying off his brother David to the partner companies daughter Elizabeth Tyson (Martha Hyer) who is remains oblivious to the films events. Especially when Sabrina returns home, unintentionally stirring things up. Coming back a new and confident woman, complete with new hair cut, her dreamy outlook has been pulled back to reality.

David soon rediscovers the chauffeurs daughter, a new woman stands before him, he knows she is the one. Its love at first sight for him, a dream come for a resolved Sabrina.  Spelling nothing but bad news for the plastic deal, so much is on the line. Linus steps in to start “damage limitation” ensuring the deal goes through. However he doesn’t intend to fall for the affection of Sabrina. Unwittingly a love triangle takes form and fast and only she doesn’t even know it.

Wilder again works his charm with material which would on the face of it be disgraceful and depressing. Crossing the boundaries of class to the 20th century as Linus promotes over his fathers wishes. The heart is more important, even in matters of business, as exciting as they can be. Choosing plastic a then new material which was just being discovered, here exploited for comic effect. Wilder takes the innocence of Hepburn not long out of Roman Holiday (1953) starting to mould her on already forming perception of an angel. Which he also did similarly with Marilyn Monroe. The script doesn’t so much sizzle and spit, usually tight, there is room here for a looser story to be told, it’s romance, with a spot of business to lift it up from just another romance. Satorising the class system and business in the process. It’s not has hot as some of his other works, still standing up with his others with pride. Along with interesting casting, of course William Holden had become a regular, the choice of Bogart a straight actor heading into his 3rd decade on screen, a chance that Wilder has taken before with great effect. Finally if it takes one film to start to change my mind on one actress then I’m glad it was this one to get me on my way, all courtesy of Wilder.