B/W Photograph – Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant

wehadfacesthen:

Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

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Notorious

  • Title:  Notorious
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1946
  • Studio:  RKO
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD format:  R1, NTSC, (Criterion Collection, single disc)

“Waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other, that’s your patriotism.”  — Alicia

“I’ve always been scared of women, but I get over it.” — Devlin

In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia, whose father’s been tried for treason, found guilty and jailed.  We later learned that he “died in his cell”, which is only marginally better than “shot while trying to escape”.  Bergman is indifferent to her father’s death, knowing he was a traitor (or as he put it in a recorded conversation – loyal to Germany and his own pocket) – but seems apolitical.  She is, however, a hopeless alcoholic, even driving drunk.  She meets Devlin at one of her parties, and quickly discovers he’s an American agent.  He brings her to his bosses to use as an agent.  Reluctantly, she agrees and the two fly off to Rio.  It’s interesting to note that Alicia’s friends had also wanted her to take a vacation, but suggested Cuba!!!  Anyway, once in Rio, Alicia and Devlin discover what the job is that Devlin’s un-named agency wants her to do.  She’s to become romantically involved with Claude Rains’ character, a man she knew as a young girl, and someone who seems to be supporting some shady scientists, though to what end is unknown – that is what Alicia is to find out.  Devlin isn’t happy about Alicia’s assignment, because the two have fallen for each other. Alicia, however, agrees.  She quickly forms an attachment to Rains — and even marries him.  Devlin, meanwhle, becomes her handler – but gets more and more angry to see the woman he loves with another man.

Despite it’s fantastic cast – Notorious is a very, very slow moving film.  Yes, the tension does build up, especially when Rains’ mother discovers Alicia is an agent and begins to poison her coffee, but the pacing is so slow as to be irritating instead of suspenseful.  I actually found Rains to be the most fun – it’s nice to see him in a juicy “bad guy” role as opposed the to lighter characters he normally plays.  Bergman is excellent as the newly minted tough-as-nail agent, but her easy submission into taking the poisoned coffee (and not realizing there might be a reason she feels so sick) undercuts her strong woman personna.  Grant, of course, rescues her at the end, but the film still has a strange ending (they leave the house, but we don’t know, for sure, if Grant got to her in time for the poisoning to be reversed).  All in all – I think Notorious is a good example of a film that would work better as a TV series.  I’d have loved to see a pair of secret agents – one male, one female, who gradually fall for each other – and eventually marry.  It could be especially interesting if the woman still must “honeytrap” other spies as part of her job.  A TV series, however, could gradually work the relationship of  “Alicia” and “Devlin” — making it more realistic, as well as dealing with the difficulties of a couple in such a dangerous profession.

But, getting back to the film, Grant is fantastic in Notorious – giving a subtle performance, and projecting a core of steel and violence.  I loved that.

Overall, though Notorious has it’s good points and an excellent cast, it’s like a novel by a great writer who needs an editor and without one writes books which are overly long.  The film really needed to be tightened up, the pacing improved, and the ending needs to be more concrete and less confusing.  Still, I would recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Philadelphia Story

Indiscreet

  • Title:  Indiscreet
  • Director:  Stanley Donen
  • Date:  1958
  • Studio:  Republic Pictures
  • Genre:  Romance
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m the wrongest woman you’ve ever seen and I’m going to pay him back with interest!”  — Ingrid Bergman

Probably one of Cary Grant’s less-known romances, I picked it up in a bargain bin someplace.  However, the presence of Ingrid Bergman makes the film watchable.  The plot is also a bit backwards or reversed — where else would one see a woman get extremely angry and plotting her revenge when she discovers her lover of several months is not married.

Bergman plays Anna, a well-known actress of some acclaim.  She’s wealthy and independent, and bored stiff by the parade of suitors at her door.

Grant is Philip, a diplomat, who bores easily and thus has come to the conclusion he should remain a bachelor.

Anna and Philip meet thanks to another couple and go to a dinner together, they have a marvelous time, and Anna invites Philip to her apartment for a “nightcap”.  Philip accepts the invitation, then tells her he’s married, he’s separated from his wife, and he can’t get a divorce.  And so begins their affair.  Philip turns down a job in Mexico and accepts a job working for NATO in Paris, then flies to London every weekend to spend time with Anna.  The two attend ballets and gallery openings and they enjoy dinners and long walks.  They spend several months together in their “illicit” affair.  And slowly the two fall in love.

Things begin to unravel when Philip is “offered” a job in New York, a job he has to take that will take him away from London for five months.  Anna is heart-broken that he will leave her.  But Philip has a surprise, he talks her into toasting him at midnight, on her birthday, the next day — when he’s supposed to be on a boat for the US.  Anna’s brother-in-law confronts him about his secret — he’s not married, he’s single. Philip explains he came up with the lie of a non-existent wife to avoid having to say “He’s not the marrying kind”, but admits his plan to surprise Anna on her birthday.  The brother-in-law, finding out from Anna that she plans to fly to the US to meet Philip, talks her out of it by saying, essentially, “but he plans on surprising you by being here”.  Unfortunately, he slips up and also tells her Philip is single, which enrages Anna.

That night there’s a big dance at the same place where Philip and Anna had their first date.  Anna seethes through the entire evening; and plots her revenge when she sees an old suitor at the dance, and someone sends her a red rose – she assumes it’s from the old suitor.  There is a very nice scene of country dancing by the way!

That night, supposedly their last night together, Anna plays games with Philip.  Bergman’s performance, like the scene where she loses it when she learns the truth about Philip, is brilliant.  She can bring so many emotions to relatively simple dialogue!  The next night, her birthday, Anna’s filled her flat with roses and candles, and plans for David to meet her for dinner, half an hour before Philip is due to surprise her. David, fortunately, is struck down with appendicitis and doesn’t make it.  Anna attempts to substitute Karl, her Chauffeur for David, only to have the mess backfire on her.  Fortunately, Philip comes in to give her a second chance, after all he did propose to her!  And they all live happily ever after.

Again, a fairly standard romantic movie, not a lot of entanglements.  If David, Anna’s old suitor, has actually been a character in the film and not just someone who’s mentioned (even if played by Ralph Bellamy) it would have worked a bit better and given the film some more tension.  But still, the leads are good actors, and it has a slightly unusual plot.

Recommendation:  Not bad if you’re in the mood for romance
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  It Happened One Night

Gaslight (1944)

  • Title:  Gaslight
  • Director:  George Cukor
  • Date:  1944
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir, Suspense, Classic
  • Cast:  Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, (Double-sided)

“I was right about you — I knew from the first moment I saw you, you were dangerous to me.” — Gregory
“I knew from the first moment I saw you, you were dangerous to her.” — Mr. Brian Cameron, Scotland Yard

I’ve always thought that Gaslight is one of the scariest movies to watch. It’s spine-tingling and chilling, rather than gross, or shocking. The best way to get the full effect, is to watch it with all the lights off, at night, when you’re alone in the house, and of course a thunderstorm helps. There is nothing scarier than the idea of someone coldly trying to drive you insane. Films about those kinds of mind games are truly frightening.

The movie opens with Paula leaving her aunt’s house, she thinks for the last time. She had been raised by her aunt, after her mother died in childbirth. She’s been encouraged to go to Italy to study singing and forget the recent tragedy that’s befallen her. We learn later that her aunt was a famous opera singer and she was murdered. Still later we learn the murder is still unsolved, there was a jewel theft at the same time, but the jewels were never found, sold, or traded.

In Italy, Paula quickly discovers she has no talent for operatic singing, and she meets the man of her dreams, she thinks. After two weeks, he’s proposed. She tells him she needs time to think about it, and wants a week to herself at a lakeside vacation resort. When her train arrives there, he’s waiting for her. He talks her into settling down in London, and even though Paula doesn’t want to return to London, she agrees. The film is, by the way, set in Victorian London. They end up living in Paula’s Aunt’s house, which Paula has inherited.

The film then gets weird – Gregory Anton completely controls his wife’s life. He doesn’t allow her to go out of the house, not even on a short walk (even by Victorian standards, that’s excessive). He fires Paula’s maid, and hires an impertinent girl named Nancy (beautifully played by Angela Lansbury as alternately sinister and flirty). Again, normally the hiring and firing of servants would be a woman’s job.  And he slowly starts to drive Paula insane, giving her things, then taking them away but telling her she lost them. Taking a picture down off the wall, then pointing it out to be missing and saying she did it.  And going out at night, leaving her alone with a deaf cook and rude maid, who do everything he says and thus join in on his mind games of turning down the gaslight (and saying it hasn’t been) and ignoring the footsteps in the closed off attic that Paula hears.

But the genius of  the movie is that it isn’t obvious about any of this. We don’t actually see Gregory take a brooch from Paula’s purse, we only see him fiddle with it. We don’t see him tell the servants to lie to make Paula look nuts either – we only see him tell Nancy she’s to take all her orders from him and not her mistress.

Joseph Cotten is Mr. (Brian) Cameron, a Scotland Yard detective who happens to see Paula with Gregory one day when they are sight-seeing at the Tower of London. Gregory is immensely jealous when Paula smiles at Cameron after he tips his hat to her, but she was merely being polite. Gregory then goes back to the Yard and examines the cold case of Paula’s aunt’s murder, but is told to leave it alone.  Luckily for Paula, he doesn’t.

Paula, Gregory and Mr. Cameron again run into each other at a party thrown by one of Paula’s aunt’s friends. Again, Gregory pulls his slight of hand, telling Paula his watch is gone and pulling it out of her purse – the hysterical Paula is led from the party.

Gregory’s cold, calculating, insidious little plans get worse and worse, as he tells Paula a letter she found in her aunt’s music doesn’t exist and she was staring at nothing, and that her mother didn’t die in childbirth but rather a year later in an insane asylum.

Fortunately, by this time Cameron and a bobby named Williams have started investigating, and find out  Gregory only goes out to “work” at night, they even find that he disappears in an alley behind the house, and comes out looking dirty and dusty, his tie askew. One night, when Gregory has left, Cameron goes to the house and finds Paula, he starts talking to her when the gaslight dims. She’s excited that he also sees the gas lower. Then he hears the footsteps, and, knowing what he does from his own investigation, concludes her husband is poking around in the attic. They also find the letter that Gregory had claimed didn’t exist.

Then the light turns to normal, Paula encourages Cameron to leave, he does, and when Gregory returns he, and Elizabeth try to convince Paula no one was there that evening. Paula starts to break down and Gregory arrives. After a struggle, Cameron arrests Gregory finding the jewels on him.  Paula’s aunt had sewn them on her costume amongst all the paste jewels. Nothing like hiding in plain sight!

But this isn’t a case of the boy rescues the girl. Ingrid Bergman’s performance is masterful – she portrays a deliriously happy bride, and a frightened wife equally well. But her best scene is at the end of the movie, as she turns the tables on her husband, playing the same mind games on him that he had played on her, if only for a short while, before turning him over to Cameron and the police.

The directing, the use of light and shadow, and the acting, especially by the women in the piece is all masterful.  It’s also a flip-flop of the typical Film Noir motif — that usually involves a cunning, conniving, designing woman, known as the femme fatale, dragging a relatively innocent man down into a well of crime and evil, and thus destroying him. In Gaslight, it’s the man who’s cunning, conniving, cold, and chilling, and he’s attempting to drive his wife insane, after murdering her aunt, to get the jewels he didn’t have time to steal because she had interrupted him. (The police knew Paula had awoken, walked down the stairs, and found her aunt dead, but everything else on the case remained open.) Also, where the man often dies as a result of committing a crime for the femme fatale – here Paula not only survives, but in the end, she’s triumphant, discovering she’s not going insane, getting the chance to pay her husband back (who’s secretly married to someone else, and thus not legally her husband), and possibly even finding happiness with the detective who solved the case. How often can a Film Noir film have a truly happy ending? Not often.

Anyway, it’s an incredibly good film, everyone in it does an excellent and admirable job, and I love it. It can be good to watch something spooky occasionally.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating:  5 Stars
Next film:  Gaslight (1940)

Casablanca

  • Title:  Casablanca
  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Date:  1942
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Classic, Drama
  • Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
  • Format:  Black & White, Standard
  • R1, NTSC

“What in heavens name brought you to Casablanca?” – Cap’t Louis Renault
“My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.” – Rick Blaine
“The waters?  What waters — we’re in the desert.” – Cap’t Renault
“I was misinformed.” – Rick

“What’s your nationality?” – Maj. Strasser
“I’m a drunkard.”  – Rick

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world — she walks into mine.” – Rick

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” – Cap’t Renault
“Your winnings, sir.”  – Waiter
“Oh, thank you very much.”  – Cap’t Renault

Casablanca is one of the best movies ever made.  Like all great movies it is still enjoyable after repeat viewings, and can even become more enjoyable because of the anticipation of favorite lines, scenes, and events.  The movie, after a brief audio introduction, swiftly carries you into it’s world.  Casablanca: Crossroads of the world, filled with refugees from war-torn Europe hoping to beg, borrow, or steal enough to obtain exit visas and passage on the plane to Lisbon and from there passage to America.  Part of what Casablanca does so well is not only the main plot of three “little people”, but the small side plots:  the older German couple who have finally obtained passage and are practicing their imperfect English; the woman who sells her diamond tennis bracelet – for far less than it’s worth because she’s desperate for money (and the broker knows it); the pickpocket; the young girl who asks Rick if she should trust Cap’t Renault and do a “very bad thing” so she and her husband can escape Casablanca.  There is a real sense that everyone in Casablanca has a story – and it may be as compelling as the story of Rick, Ilsa and Victor Laszlo.

But at the heart Casablanca is about Rick, Ilsa, and Victor – three good people caught in a mess.  Rick – the cynic, who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” Victor – hero of the people, who escaped a German Concentration Camp and is leader of the underground free French.  And Ilsa – the girl they both love and have loved at different times.  The film is about Rick’s journey from cynic to unlikely hero, but there’s an edginess to the movie – the audience doesn’t know what Rick’s final decision will be.  Part of this may have been the cast didn’t know, supposedly the script was unfinished and the movie was made on the fly.  But even if that wasn’t so, and even when you have the final scene with all it’s perfect dialogue memorised – you’ve seen this movie that often, the film still manages to have a sense of surprise to it, a sense of anticipation, and it creates a world that envelops you.  It truly is a brilliant, brilliant film.

Also – Casablanca is filled with great lines, those quoted above, and gems like Cap’t Renault’s “I’m only a poor, corrupt official,” or his “Major Strasser has been shot – round up the usual suspects,” not to mention Rick’s speech to Ilsa at the end of  the film, and the last line of  the film as well.  Totally classic!

Besides the sparkling script – the film is filled with great images as well:  Ilsa’s hand knocking over the champagne glass as Rick kisses her as the Germans match into Paris; the rain washing away the ink of Ilsa’s note to Rick; the close-up as Cap’t Renault drops the bottle of  “Viche Water” into the trash.  And light and shadow is used so well in the film.  Ingrid Bergman looks so beautiful, especially when she walks into Rick’s the lighting on her face makes her practically glow.  But shadows and half light are also used well.  Mist and smoke are used to enhance the visual image:  the smoke obscuring Rick as he gets on the train in Paris, and the mist and fog shrouded airport at the end of the film are two examples.  Another of my favorite scenes is when Victor leads all of  Rick’s Cafe’ Americain in singing the Marseillais to drown out the Germans who are singing De Fatherland, especially Yvonne crying.

And Rick – Richard Blaine, who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” who at the start of the film does nothing to help poor Ugarte (Lorre), despite his pleas, and despite him saying Rick’s the only one he trusts – an action which later results in Ugarte’s death.  This is the man who is the noble one at the end of the picture – he’s the one who gives up love for something greater, and because he knows the woman he loves – loves someone else.  I just love this movie and could watch it again and again and again.  Which is often the best compliment a work of art can have – to make you want to experience it over and over again.

All in all – just about a perfect movie.

Recommendation:  See it!  Own it!
Rating:  5 (out of 5) Stars
Next Film:  Charade