Friday, May 22, 2020

Gimme Shelter: Classics for Comfort


The Classic Movie Blog Association is hosting its annual spring blogathon from May 19 – 22. This year’s theme is “Classics for Comfort,” about films that soothe us in difficult times. Click here for more info and links to participating blogs.
~
When we first began to shelter-in-place in my area two months ago, I pulled a Marilyn Monroe collection from the shelf. What could lighten the heart more than frolicking through Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot? Not much. And so I did. Seems a very long time and lots of movies ago now. Among the films I’ve watched since then that have given solace or relief in different ways are these. 

Sullivan’s Travels (1941), directed by Preston Sturges, starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, with William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Porter Hall and many others. You can always count on Preston Sturges for laughs – along with much wit - and Sullivan’s Travels provides plenty of both. The story is set during in the depths of the Great Depression, making it an apt choice and a real tonic for the times we’re in right now.

Joel McCrea is John “Sully” Sullivan, a relatively successful Hollywood director. Though his filmography seems to consist mostly of light musicals and slapstick comedies, he has become obsessed with making a film that will “hold up a mirror,” a film about the “problems of the average man,” a sociological film about the suffering of humanity. “Something like Capra,” perhaps.  However, Sully went to boarding school, is a college grad and as is pointed out to him by all who know him, he knows zero about hard luck. But he’s determined to make his serious film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”,  and so ends up going on the road to learn more about the down-and-out life. Sully gets more than one lesson on his road trip and eventually ends up mistaken for one of the “forgotten men,” the tramps and hobos who roamed the country, out of work and “on the bum” during the Depression. I have a soft spot for The Lady Eve, my sentimental favorite from Sturges, but there’s no denying that Sullivan’s Travels, a beautifully constructed comedy that also reflects, without a heavy hand, on harsh reality, may  be his best. Preston Sturges dedicated the movie “To the memory of those who made us laugh…” Bless them. And bless him. 

I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) is from the British production company The Archers, headed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, that produced Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948). This film, unlike those two better known classics, is a less “epic” - though no less magical - sort of film, a black and white romance starring Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey.

The story follows an ambitious young woman, Joan Webster (Hiller), a white collar factory employee, as she travels from Manchester to the exotic Scottish Hebrides where she will marry a much older wealthy man, the owner of the factory where she works. She is a modern young woman, very stylish and quite determined. But nature, in the form of a heavy storm, will prevent her from embarking on the last leg of her journey. There is also a man (Livesey) of her own age she has just met who poses another kind of obstacle. While Joan waits for the weather to clear, she will enter a world that is not modern at all, in fact there is powerful evidence of the ancient and the primal everywhere around her.

What I love about I Know Where I’m Going! is the reverie that takes hold as the film becomes more and more removed from modern day. As time passes, Joan encounters not only wild nature but also longstanding tradition and the bond between neighbors in an antique out-of-the-way little village.  Cinematographer Erwin Hillier creates a rich and evocative world of bewitching shadows and shapes. The interiors, from a smart Manchester nightclub to the character-drenched homes, inns and shops of the Hebrides, are the inspired work of Alfred Junge who would go on to win an art direction Oscar for Black Narcissus. And there is Wendy Hiller who seamlessly portrays Joan’s transition from stubborn determination and certainty to rising confusion, an upsurge of bullheadedness and, finally, liberation. This is a special film, lyrical and fierce at the same time, and ideal for a time when spirits needs lifting. 

M
Max Ophuls' La Ronde
La Ronde (1950). This French classic directed by Max Ophuls is an adaptation of a famously naughty work by German playwright Arthur Schnitzler. Set in Old Vienna, La Ronde reflects the opulence and festive atmosphere of the fin de siècle era in that city. Ten interconnected vignettes depict a series of seductions with each episode (except one) depicting a romantic liaison that connects to the next. Oscar Straus's waltz theme weaves through La Ronde reflecting mood and tone - and cuing the lovemaking about to begin or coming to an end. The rhythmic pattern of the film gives Ophuls an ideal framework in which to showcase his virtuosity with the camera. The combined effect of revolving stories and characters and a camera ever in motion conjures a dance, a scrupulously synchronized and choreographed Viennese waltz. 

La Ronde features some of the great stars of mid-century European cinema. From France there is Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, Daniel Gelin, Danielle Darrieux, Fernand Gravey, Odette Joyeux, Jean-Louis Barrault and Gerard Philipe. From Italy, Isa Miranda, and in the pivotal role of master of ceremonies, Anton Walbrook of Austria. Those who desire an escape from the grueling news of the day will find considerable merriment and urbane humor in Max Ophuls' La Ronde.

Hitchcock is always a reliable go-to for me when I need a cinematic hug. He understood better than most how to sweep viewers into a tale and hold them there to be thrilled, terrified and mesmerized at his mercy.

Much as I revere Vertigo and Psycho, they are not yet among the classics I’ve turned to for comfort, for each in its own way is a little too jarring for times as tense and anxious as these have been. But I have watched Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest, Dial M for Murder, Notorious and wonderful Rebecca. 

Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much
A few days ago I found myself streaming The Man Who Knew Too Much, the 1956 remake of Hitchcock’s 1934 original. I’ve never thought of it as top-tier Hitch, but it has its attractions.  There’s the lure of an exotic location – in this case Morocco – early in the film, and the more staid environs of London later on, a compelling story line involving international intrigue, a kidnapping and the portentous crash of cymbals. Of course, the film’s top-billed stars are two of the most easy-going, comfortable actors you could ask for, Doris Day and James Stewart. They are joined by a first-rate international supporting cast including Britain’s  Brenda de Banzie, Daniel Gelin from France, and Austrian Reggie Nalder as a most sinister assassin. And the film boasts an outright hilarious final scene. My only complaint is that at least a minute or two of Day singing “Que sera, sera” could’ve been cut without hurting a thing. 

Moonstruck (1987). I couldn’t leave this modern classic off my list since it is one of the first films I turned to once I was wisely directed to stay at home. Along with a few other memorable romantic comedies – Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Thrill of it All come to mind - this is a most consoling and satisfying comfort film. To begin with, it’s the best romcom of the ‘80s (and there were some good ones in that decade).  And, as much as it is a charming romantic comedy, it is also a  family story. Alla famiglia!

Cher is a widowed young accountant, Loretta Castorini, in South Brooklyn’s Italian-American enclave. She lives at home with her mother, a housewife, her father, a prosperous plumber, and her paternal grandfather (and his five or six dogs). Loretta, who fixates on the bad luck surrounding her first marriage, will become engaged to middle-aged mama’s boy Johnny Camareri (Danny Aiello). Before the wedding, though, he must travel to Sicily and tell his dying mother of his coming marriage. But things will happen while he’s away. Directed by Norman Jewison with a script by John Patrick Shanley and starring Cher, Olympia Dukakis, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello, Vincent Gardenia and John Mahoney, Moonstruck could hardly miss. Nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, it won three – Cher’s best actress, Dukakis’s best supporting and Shanley’s screenplay. I love this film for all of this and…the Brooklyn setting, the working class Italian-American milieu, the quirky evolution of romance between Cher and Cage. Actually, everything. That’s amore!

Along with hopes that some of you will watch and enjoy and find comfort in these films, I hope even more that all who are reading this are and will stay safe and well.

24 comments:

  1. Moonstruck is a great choice for a comfort film. I could watch it again and again, at any time, really.

    ReplyDelete
  2. How did I know Vertigo would be one of your picks? :) Sullivan's Travels is a great pick and I've got Moonstruck on my watch list as we speak. Hope all is well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sullivan's Travels' subject seemed so ideal for the times - and Sturges's brand of humor is the icing on the cake. But I could easily have made all five picks on my list Sturges films, adding Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and either The Great McGinty, Hail the Conquering Hero or Unfaithfully Yours.

      Delete
  3. Such a delightful visit with these films through your eyes. The term "scrupulously synchronized" for La Ronde is perfect. Rear Window was in our lineup yesterday and Sturges is never far from our minds.

    Of all the many joys of I Know Where I'm Going!, it is the punchline that warms my heart.

    You have inspired a longing for How to Marry a Millionaire, and in a roundabout way, by focusing on The Man Who Knew Too Much, I am thinking it might be time for Hobson's Choice.

    Take care. Perhaps the world will be better for this crisis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brenda de Banzie! I watched Hobson's Choice just last week. What a jewel it is and she is amazing - and John Mills - and Charles Laughton. I am thinking it might be time to blog about her, what a talent.

      Delete
  4. Oh gosh - Moonstruck is such a brilliant choice. I recently saw I Know Where I'm Going for the first time - what took me so long? A lovely, elegant and totally comforting post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While you abandoned your comfort zone, my friend, I burrowed deeply into mine. No gritty reality for me right now - but one day again.

      Delete
  5. Great selections Lady Eve. These are all excellent films and I'm reminded by your post to go back and see them again. And as you point out, some of the others from these directors should be watched again too. I don't know "I know Where I'm Going" (I should by now) so I'll look for that one. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Christian. I hope you have the chance to see I Know Where I'm Going! sometime soon. It's a treasure.

      Delete
  6. Yes, from the Archers - I Know Where I'm Going has to be great. Thanks for bringing it up.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Moonstruck and The Man Who Knew Too Much are two of my faves. They're excellent choices for any occasion.

    Thanks for the introduction to I Know Where I'm Going. I've been exploring more British cinema lately, but haven't yet come across this one. I know I'll enjoy it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I mention to Christian that IKWIG! is on Amazon Prime @$3.99. Since posting that I remembered that it's a Criterion Collection film and might also be available on the Criterion Channel. Absolutely worth seeking out.

      Delete
  8. Moonstruck and I Know Where I'm Going are comfort movies for me as well. Both of them feature splendid performances by their leading ladies, who play strong, independent women who find love when they least expect it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, these two female protagonists are both no-nonsense women who seem to have their life paths all figured out. They both became engaged for entirely practical reasons. Then "love walked in" and, like it often does, turned everything upside down.

      Delete
  9. Another amazing selection. Sullivan's Travels is inspiring, and I haven't rewatched it in a long time - seems that now is a good opportunity. I haven't watched La Ronde yet, but it sounds great.
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Le. Very happy to pique your interest in La Ronde. I think you will love it.

      Delete
  10. Fine films, different and yet themes that are universal. I love SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS and I've wanted to blog on I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING for some time. I like your perspective on this and all your choices. I don't suppose, as you've noted, that most of Hitchcock's work is particularly soothing to shattered nerves, but I would make an exception, I think for SHADOW OF A DOUBT. As sinister as that is at some points, I have to admit, I find it rather cozy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems that all who see I Know Where I'm Going! become enchanted by it. I hope you do blog on it, the film deserves lots more space than I gave it here. And I agree about Shadow of a Doubt. The Newton family and the town of Santa Rosa depict an idyllic small-town America. Mom and apple pie. Snug and safe. With a Hitchcock twist.

      Delete
  11. Totally with you on any Sturges film. (I too have a soft spot for The Lady Eve.) I haven't heard of I Know Where I’m Going! but love The Red Shoes, and your description is so intriguing. I'll have to check it out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please do see I Know Where I'm Going! If you are a fan of The Red Shoes or any film from P&P I think you will become a fan of this film, too.

      Delete
  12. Hi,
    I've long said that 'Moonstruck' was the best romantic comedy of the '80s. It's a perfect gem of a movie, with Shanley's great script, Jewison's sure and snappy direction, and the great ensemble cast. And it's certainly Cher's finest 2 hours on film.

    I enjoy The Man Who Knew Too Much, too, despite a few too many choruses of Que Sera Sera belted! But it definitely isn't in the same league as Rear Window or North by Northwest.

    Sure you know this, but Jewison directed two of Doris' better '60s comedies, The Thrill of it All and Send Me Know Flowers. Also, didn't he direct episodes of The Judy Garland Show on TV? What a career!

    Cheers, glad to read your blog!
    Rick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rick. With as interesting and varied a career as Norman Jewison has had I have always associated him most with The Thomas Crown Affair and Moonstruck. Even though The Thrill off it All is my favorite Doris Day. And even though there's also In the Heat of the Night, And Justice for All, Judy, etc. He's had quite a career alright. Deserves more credit, I think.

      Delete