James Stewart Photoset and Film Links

Please NOTE:  This is reblogged from tumblr – I have not tried these links and take no responsibility for content.  Hopefully it’s what it says on the tin, and these are out of copyright.

darlinghepburn:

A collection of classic Jimmy Stewart films with links to watch them online:

You Can’t Take it With You (1938)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Destry Rides Again (1939)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Rope (1948)
Harvey (1950)
Winchester ‘73 (1950)
The Shop around the Corner (1950)
Rear Window (1954)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Vertigo (1958)
Anatomy of Murder (1959)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

For my other lovely anon xo

Awesome – I’ve seen two.

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Gone with the Wind

  • Title:  Gone with the Wind
  • Director:  Victor Fleming
  • Date:  1939
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Classic, Romance, Historical Epic
  • Cast:  Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia deHavilland, Ann Rutherford
  • Format:  Technicolor, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars, and when the wars were over — no one ever knew what they were about.”  — Ashley Wilkes

“No, I don’t think I will kiss you.  Although you need kissing and badly, that’s what’s wrong with you.  You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.”  — Rhett Butler

“What a woman!” — Rhett Butler

Gone with the Wind sweeps you into it’s story gradually but completely.  You are quickly immersed in the story and the characters.  And the film is really Scarlett’s story.  Scarlett O’Hara, despite first appearances, in a way is a very modern character, and at times a strong woman.  She’s manipulative, determined, strong and feisty, and she knows what she wants (or thinks she does).  She’s willing to do whatever she has to do, whenever she has to.  Scarlett is in sharp contrast to Melanie (deHavilland) who’s kind and generous — to a fault, and weak and even, at times, a bit simple.  Melanie can be strong (watch her face down Union troopers in the second half of the film for example), and she’s honest about her feelings and in her marriage to Ashley (her much older cousin).  DeHavilland is fantastic in her thankless role as the perfect Melanie.  Scarlett’s sisters never learn anything about strength, or getting what they want (which is simply a husband to care and provide for them) and whine and simper-on throughout the film.  Scarlett never once whines or complains, not really, she just does what needs to be done, or what she thinks she needs to do (and she doesn’t care at all who she hurts in the process). Essentially Scarlett’s a bitch in both the good and bad sense of the word.  Because in some circles to be a bitch is a compliment, and in some circles it’s the only way to really survive.  And whatever else you say about Scarlett O’Hara — she’s a survivor.

When we meet Scarlett, she’s not that impressive — she comes off as dumb, and shallow, concerned only with her looks, and her beaus.  But even in the beginning of the film it’s suggested she’s not as dumb as she pretends – she just acts that way because it’s how she’s been taught and how she thinks she can get a man.  However, she soon finds out the man she’s “wanted”, who she thinks really loves her, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) from the plantation next door, is going to marry his cousin Melanie, instead.  We aren’t told if this is an arranged marriage or a love match.  Ashley and Melanie are actually well suited to each other — both are kind and gentle, always doing what’s expected, never raising any controversy, filling their roles the way one was expected to — given the times and their statuses.  Scarlett, throughout the film says both aloud and by her actions that she loves Ashley and that she’s convinced he loves her — even when both are married to other people.

The war (the American Civil War) comes and all the men go off to fight.  Ashley and Melanie have been married.  Scarlett, in a fit of pique, marries Charles, Melanie’s brother, even though Charles was her sister’s beau.  Charles dies of pneumonia during the war.  Scarlett really doesn’t care, and even rebels at wearing Widow’s Weeds and not dancing at the next round of society balls (which at this point are only being held as war fund raisers).  She gives in to convention, though, and manages to look stunning in black.  (At the time, only a widow would have worn black, especially at a society function).  During the society ball, she manages to arrange things so each of the women will be “auctioned off” for dances. Rhett Butler bids on and wins Scarlett.  She’s so desperate to dance, she takes him up on it, claiming it’s for charity (we know it’s not).  Rhett is the dashing stranger — he’s avoided service in the war because he has no desire to get himself  killed and he hates all the waste of  war.  Rhett’s a gambler, a blockade runner, and a rakish rogue.  He’s trouble and considering Scarlett is as well — they are very suited to each other.  Even Rhett says to her, they are two of a kind.

Scarlett and Melanie end up in Atlanta, working as nurses to help the wounded.  Scarlett doesn’t particularly like this duty, but she knows she must do it.  Melanie has Ashley’s baby (nine months after his Christmas leave). She’s sick and ill just before and during the birth, but Scarlett manages to figure out and help with the process.  By this time, the war is nearly over, and Sherman’s troops are marching on Atlanta.  Rhett comes to the rescue of the three women (Scarlett, Melanie, and Scarlett’s maid, Prissy) and the baby.  He gets them out of Atlanta and safely on the road to Tara, Scarlett’s home, then leaves, informing Scarlett he’s going to join the war effort for a last stand.

Scarlett manages to make it the rest on the way on her own, seeing Twelve Oaks (the Wilkes plantation) burned to the ground on the way.  Tara’s survived, but her family’s in ruins:  her mother has died, her sisters are still weak and ill from a fever that killed her mother, and her father’s gone out of his head from shock.  Saddled with a another sickly and physically weak woman and a baby, Scarlett endures.  She finds that her home still stands, but it sits in the middle of a wasteland, and there’s no food or money. Scarlett runs out into a field, eats a carrot she finds, and starts to throw up.  Then  she holds up her hand, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” she swears.  This is the end of part one, and the intermission card is on the DVD.

Part two picks up during the Reconstruction.  Scarlett is told she needs three hundred dollars to pay the taxes on her home.  That might not sound like much, but in the 1860s/1870s it was a small fortune, especially when you have absolutely no way of making any money.  Scarlett uses a pair of drapes to sew herself a new dress and tries to get the money from Rhett Butler.  He’s in a union jail (stockade) and can’t access his money which is in a London bank.  (After all, it’s not like they had ATMs back then, and though he could access his funds via bank draft, it could be traced and the money taken — this is a risk Butler isn’t willing to take).  Scarlett then runs into Frank Kennedy, another of Sue Ellen (her sister’s) beaus. She marries Frank to get at his money that he’s made running a general merchandise store, and convinces him to buy the lumber mill next door.  Scarlett saves Tara, but lives in Atlanta, running the mill and lumber business.

Scarlett proves to be a shrewd businesswoman, running the mill (though Ashley Wilkes is her partner in name), at a time when women seldom worked, much less ran their own businesses.  However, one day she takes a horse and buggy (another concept the ladies in town find scandelous – Scarlett driving her own buggy, alone) through a bad area of town.  She’s attacked.  Rhett Butler shows up and rescues her. Scarlett, Melanie and the other girls have a sewing party, and Scarlett knows something is going on, but doesn’t know what.  She later learns Ashley, her husband, Frank, and several other men have gone to attack the men who attacked Scarlett.  Frank’s killed.  Ashley returns, wounded, but alive.  (Rhett again comes to the rescue, faking being drunk, with Ashley faking being even drunker, as in the local doctor, so they can get into Tara which is being guarded by Reconstructionist/Union troops on the lookout for the men who attacked the men who attacked Scarlett).  A widow again, and in Widow weeds, again, Rhett proposes to Scarlett.  They marry and soon have a daughter, Bonnie.

Scarlett, however, is so vain, that after the birth of  her daughter, she decides not to have any more children because it will ruin her figure.  Rhett considers divorcing Scarlett when she tells him this, but decides to stay. He’s fallen for Scarlett, despite their tendency to constantly fight, and Scarlett’s drinking issues.

When Bonnie’s around eight, Rhett gets fed-up and takes Bonnie with him on a trip to England, when they return dual tragedies occur:  Bonnie’s killed in a horse-jumping accident (it really is one of  the saddest moments of the entire film), and Scarlett, who’s gotten pregnant again, despite her intentions, falls/is pushed down a flight of stairs, gets sick, and has a miscarriage.  Her second pregnancy is interesting anyway because it’s the result of something seldom talked about now, and certainly not in 1939 — marital rape.  (She’s drunk/he’s drunk — they fight, he carries her up the stairs and literally has his way with her, then leaves for London the next day).  Also, the scene on the stairs between Rhett and Scarlett is filmed in such a way that we really don’t know if Scarlett fell by accident, if she fell accidentally on purpose to anger Rhett, or if Rhett was so angry at her he pushed her without thinking.  Whatever — he’s devastated by the two losses.  It doesn’t help that though Scarlett calls out for him, all the women around her decide not to tell  Rhett she wants him with her when she’s ill.  Shortly thereafter, Melanie, who was told not to have more children, get’s pregnant, has a miscarriage, and dies of sepsis  (or possibly pre-eclampsia). She even tells Scarlett to look after Ashley for her.  Scarlett talks to Ashley though, and finally realises she really loves Rhett, and her feelings for Ashley were a childish crush and a pipe dream.  She goes to tell Rhett — but he basically doesn’t believe her and leaves her.  In the end, Scarlett’s bereft and without a man, but she realises that she does still have the one thing that really matters — land, Tara, her home.   Somehow, Scarlett will be just fine.

Gone with the Wind really is a great film.  It’s more than simply a romance or a war film.  It’s unusual in that the entire film is told from the point of view of a woman — and not a goody-goody woman, but a woman who’s complex, scheming and manipulative.  And unlike the designing women or femme fatales of the Film Noir films, Scarlett isn’t made to fatally suffer for her mis-doings.  The film sweeps you up and into it’s world and it’s characters.  Vivien Leigh is gorgeous, and gives an incredible performance as Scarlett.  Clark Gable is fantastic as Rhett Butler.  The rest of the cast shine in their roles, sometimes in the smallest and simplest scenes (such as the conversation between Melanie and the Atlanta madam Miss Belle after she hides Ashley and saves his life).

The film also looks gorgeous — it’s a early Technicolor film, and the colors just pop right off the screen.  I loved the restoration work on my copy — it looks brand new, with no color bleeding or red cast.  There are scenes in Gone with the Wind that still impress, such as the burning of  Atlanta.  The film is of course, based on a novel, and print screen cards appear not just at the beginning of  the film, but throughout the movie explaining what is going on, especially in the larger canvas of the Civil War — it adds to the scope of the film.

The politics of the film deserve a mention — this is a film that white-washes (no pun intended) the Old South, and slavery in particular.  Blacks (called “darkies” in the film — even by Scarlett and Rhett) are referred to as servants, not the slaves they were.  They are also portrayed as being well treated and taken care of and happy with their lot (something that simply wasn’t true).  The film is definitely sympathetic to the South.  However, that speaks volumes about the times when the film was made (1939) and the times the film portrays (the 1860s) as well as the point-of-view of the author of the book. Students can learn from such a film what attitudes were in the past, and then learn what the harsh realities were.

About the famous slapping scene, though — often it’s taken, completely out of context as an example of the film’s racism.  However, when Scarlett slaps Prissy — she’s hysterical.  Scarlett could have easily have slapped a white woman who was behaving in such a fashion.  And Scarlett pretty much slaps everyone in the film at one point or another (including her sister, Rhett, Ashley, and possibly even Melanie – but again to wake her up).  Slapping Prissy is not out of character for Scarlett, it’s in character.  And considering Prissy’s hysterical at the time — she needed to be slapped (it’s film grammar for shutting up a hysterical woman).  Besides, in the film’s context — Prissy is Scarlett’s slave, not a servant, and technically Scarlett had the right to hit her.  Not that it’s right, but there you go.  There’s a lot more in Gone with the Wind that is on the racist side, but that scene isn’t one of those things.  It certainly isn’t something worth banning the film for, as has been proposed occasionally.

Overall, a really remarkable film and a must see.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Mary Poppins

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)

Dracula

  • Title:  Dracula
  • Director:  Tod Browning
  • Date:  1931
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Horror, Drama, Classic
  • Cast:  Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Edward Van Sloan
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Listen to them, children of the night, what music they make.” — Dracula, regarding a wolf howl 

“The strength of the vampire is… that people will not believe in him.” — Van Helsing

This movie, along with Frankenstein and “The Wolf Man” (to be reviewed later) are extras on the Van Helsing collector’s box set. It’s nice to see the originals. Dracula itself is a short movie (only 74 minutes) and it really doesn’t make much sense, to be honest. Renfield goes to Transylvania with some papers for Dracula to sign — Dracula is very strange. They take a boat to London, during the crossing there’s a nasty storm, and all the crew are killed. Renfield survives the trip but he’s nuts, eating bugs and spiders for their blood. In London, Dracula meets Lucy, Mina, and John Harker — all famous characters from the novel. There’s also Dr. Van Helsing, who eventually figures out Dracula is a vampire — especially when he doesn’t show up in mirrors, as well as eventually saving Mina by killing Dracula.

There is some very nice direction, especially Dracula’s reaction when Renfield gets a papercut, and subsequently when the rosary one of the village ladies has given Renfield falls into Dracula’s line of sight. Throughout the movie, there’s also a light on Dracula’s eyes, so them seem to glow, weirdly, and that’s quite effective. Dracula also has strong powers of hypnotism, especially towards the young women. Only Van Helsing is able to counter it. Dracula also telepathically speaks to and controls both Mina and Renfield – an interesting idea, not seen in many more recent versions of Dracula or vampire fiction.

Oh — and Mina’s silver gown is gorgeous! The fabric is flowing and the silver color practically glows – I loved it!

Overall, the movie is slow, though fortunately short. I haven’t ever read the book, though I get the impression this may be a more fateful adaptation. Bela Lugosi is actually good as Dracula, but it’s unfortunate that I’m so used to parodies of his accent that it’s hard to keep a straight face at times.

Recommendation:  Overall, such a classic it deserves to be seen.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Easter Parade

Double Indemnity

  • Title:  Double Indemnity
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1944
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Film Noir, Drama, Suspense, Classic
  • Cast:  Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • Format:  R1, NTSC, Two-disc Legacy Edition

“I killed him for the money and for a woman.  I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.”  Walter Neff

Double Indemnity is one of my favorite movies – because it is such a classic noir film. Wilder is a brilliant, brilliant director, especially when he directs dark film noir movies in black and white. The film has it all – a cold, calculating, manipulative femme fatale, an innocent drawn into a web of crime that destroys him, snappy dialogue, brilliant black and white photography, and an intriguing crime that, in the end, falls apart taking it’s participants down with it.

Part of the brilliance of Double Indemnity is it’s choice of lead actor in Fred MacMurray. Yep – the guy from Disney flicks like The Absent-Minded Professor, and Flubber, and the dad in My Three Sons (OK, yes, it’s true, all those roles were from the 1960s, or after this movie, but still) actually plays the bad guy in this film. But, that’s part of  brilliance of the film – MacMurray looks like an average guy, he sounds like an average guy, and we can believe he’s an insurance salesman. I don’t think the film would have been as successful with standard villian type or “baddie” in the role of  Walter Neff.

But MacMurray isn’t the only piece of reverse casting: Edward G. Robinson was famous for playing gangsters, tough guys, and baddies. Yet, in Double Indemnity, he’s practically the good guy. He’s Neff’s boss Keyes, who ends up investigating the husband’s “accident”. There’s also a very close friendship between Neff and Keyes.

Double_Indemnity_Neff-Keyes

As with Wilder’s other brilliant Film Noir picture, Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity is told back to front, and thus it’s the tale of a man’s slide into destruction and death. The film begins with Neff returning to his office at Pacific All Risk Insurance, and using a dictating machine to record his confession (the line quoted at the beginning of this review is practically the first line he speaks). The film then cuts to scenes showing us what’s happening and winding back to the start. And somehow, the audience almost forgets that Neff is a dying man as they are completely entranced by the story.

Interestingly enough, the actual murder goes off almost perfectly. But as the second half of the film develops, the characters’ own guilt (especially Neff’s) and Keyes own intuition and experience at spotting insurance fraud leads, Tell-a-Tale-Heart-like to the downfall of both Neff and Phyllis.

The filming and cinematography are brilliant – the use of  light and shadow to highlight and conceal detail, and the suggestion, as the film moves along, of characters trapped by their own actions, is highlighted by the black and white photography. It’s a dark film, and only black and white really captures that, especially at the time the film was made.  It’s really only been rather recently that very dark, yet color, films have been possible, previously the amount of light required for the film to properly develop, especially for Technicolor films, made filming in color with the amount of darks in this film, impossible.

There’s also a lot of very fast, very snappy dialogue. The double entendres fly fast and furious, but even the cut and parry of the dialogue between Neff and Phyllis (Stanwyck) works to emphasize their hot and steamy relationship without actually ever showing you anything. (Likewise, one thing that makes the murder in this particular film so effective is that it is off-screen, letting your imagination fill in the blanks).

Overall, if  you want to know what film noir is all about – this film, more so than even The Maltese Falcon, is the one to see.

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dracula (1931)

Citizen Kane

  • Title:  Citizen Kane
  • Director:  Orson Welles
  • Date:  1941
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Classic, Drama
  • Cast:  Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten
  • Format:  Standard, black and white
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC  (2-disc Special Edition)

“One item on your list intrigues me, the New York Inquirer, a little newspaper I understand we acquired in a foreclosure proceeding, please don’t sell it, I’m coming back to America to take charge, I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.”  — Charles Foster Kane 

“The trouble is you don’t realize you’re talking to two people. As Charles Foster Kane who owns 82,364 shares of Public Transit Preferred, you see I do have a general idea of my holdings, I sympathize with you, Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel, his papers should be run out of town, a committee should be formed to boycott him, you may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a contibution of  $1000. … On the other hand, I am the publisher of  the Inquirer, as such it is my duty, and I’ll let you in on a little secret, it’s also my pleasure to see to it that decent, hardworking people in this community aren’t robbed blind by a pack of money-mad pirates just because they haven’t anybody to look after their interests!” — Charles Foster Kane

Citizen Kane is thought by many film critics and historians to be the best film ever made. Personally, I think that honor should go to Casablanca… but anyway. Citizen Kane is an odd film – the direction is incredible, and the shots, angles, tricks with shots, use of lighting, shadows, mirrors, are incredible. In fact, I’d say if you’re one of the people who doesn’t like Citizen Kane, I’d suggest try watching it with the sound off, just to notice the picture more.

However, it is true that there aren’t really any sympathetic characters in this movie. Kane, who is vaguely sympathetic when he starts out as the crusading newspaper publisher, also starts a war for his own aggrandizement and to sell papers (Kane even paraphrases the famous William Randolph Hearst quote, “You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” More about Hearst later.) His personal life is in shambles, but not in a way that the audience can sympathize with – we know both of his wives left him, and his first wife died in a car accident along with his son. We know he was more or less sold off by his parents and raised by a banker and boarding schools, though with a silver spoon in his mouth, so to speak, without real love.

We’re not really sympathetic to the reporter who’s trying to discover the meaning of Kane’s last word either. Though the non-linear story-telling was probably revolutionary at the time (1941), now audiences are much more accustomed to even more complicated methods of explaining the plot. So the reporter’s running around interviewing old friends, acquaintances and ex-lovers of Kane’s seems more like a device for structure. I don’t even remember the reporter’s name – if he has one. And “Rosebud” is a verbal McGuffin, that is, “the thing everyone in the film is looking for – that may or may not be found.” In this case, only the audience learns that “Rosebud” is his sled.

Which brings me to the point of what the movie is about. As Kane’s life crumbles, his first marriage growing colder and colder, until she finally leaves, taking his son, and subsequently dying – he begins to acquire more and more – not only building his newspaper and radio empire, but buying statues, art, even parts of castles. In my opinion, this buying spree represents two things – the habit of the nouveau riche of buying expensive things to impress others, whether or not they like looking at them or even know anything about the art they are buying. And second, Kane’s obsession with a need to possess.  Whether it’s for a sense of security, or only a way of lording it over those who don’t have what he has, or even simply an attempt to be accepted in the highest circles of the wealthy is completely unknown and unanswered in the film.

Kane’s second wife is no better – she quickly becomes rude, screeching, mean-spirited, and even cruel, though in truth Kane responds in kind. Susan never seems to appreciate what Kane does for her (he did after all, build her an Opera house and a palace) but he’s also doing things that he thinks will impress her or make her happy, rather than what she wants. In the end, though it appears Kane married both women for love – in the end, neither loved him.

So Kane ends up, all alone, in his stately pleasure dome of Xanadu, probably pretty miserable, surrounded by his art treasures which are for the most part, still in their packing crates. It’s the ultimate story of stuff and things not being as important as love, living life, and caring about friends and family.

And Rosebud? I think besides being his sled, it represents the last time Charles Foster Kane was truly happy.

Course besides the incredible, incredible direction, the perfect use of shadow and light, contrast, basically just really, really good black and white photography, and the incredible shots and images (the breaking of the glass snowball, Kane towering over Susan, the increasing table size and growing physical distance representing the increasing coldness in Kane and Emily’s marriage, the row of Kanes as he passed the mirrored archway in his palace, etc., etc.) and then there’s also the famous “controversy” about Citizen Kane.

William Randolph Hearst hated the movie. He saw it as a direct insult to him, his wife, and his girlfriend, and set out to destroy the film and almost succeeded. Being a newspaper tycoon – he ordered bad reviews in all his papers (still a strategy that works today – you want something to fail, spread bad press about it), not only that – his movie theaters would not run the film. The 2-disc special edition includes a documentary about the feud between Hearst and Welles, which I watched when I bought the DVD set several years ago. I didn’t re-watch it this time, but in many ways it’s more interesting than the actual film. Especially if you’re interested in the history of censorship. So if the 2-disc special edition featuring the documentary is still available that’s the version one should buy.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next film:  The Commitments

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