National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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Two (Lesser Known) Films Starring Rita Hayworth

Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)

[1] It’s always interesting to stumble on old movies like these that resonate more than 50 years later. How much and how little has changed when it comes to religious zealots…hhmmm?

[2] Sadie Thompson is a woman of questionable repute… trying to re-make her life. The Jose Ferrer character is effectively odious. A man hung up on projecting his moral issues on the nearest target. This happens to be Miss Sadie. 

[3] Look for a studly young Charles Bronson in a minor role, listed in the credits as Charles Buchinsky.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

At a remote military outpost on American Samoa, it’s either hot/humid or raining. A ship quarantine strands a small group of Americans, incl. Sadie Thompson (Hayworth), on the way to a new job on another island. She’s a “breezy dame” who ALL the Marines want to get to know, including Phil O’Hara (Aldo Ray). As she steps on the dock, men clamor for a bit of her company. As Sadie sings, some of the natives (even little kids) leave church to go to the bar next door, ignoring their preacher. Mr. Davidson (Jose Ferrer), the powerful/wealthy head of the Mission Board, suspects Sadie is one of the women who worked at the Emerald Club in Honolulu. He calls her a bad influence (on the Marines and local natives), who must be shunned. 

This island looks volcanic. -Dr. MacPhail comments 

It is – in more ways than one. All these isolated islands where our servicemen are stationed are volcanic. It takes constant vigilance to keep them under control. -Mr. Davidson replies

Hayworth looks gorgeous (as usual); she’s a redhead here who wears a lot of red (associated w/ evil, love, and during this era- Communism). Sadie is independent, tough, unapologetic, and quite jaded (though she puts on a fun-loving front). Phil, who will soon be finished w/ his service, suggests going to live in Australia. He quickly falls in love w/ Sadie and asks her to marry him; she is surprised, but pleasantly. Meanwhile, Davidson has put the gears into motion to get Sadie deported back to the States. 

This is a “Personal Pick” of Robert Osborne, who was host for TCM. It starts off as light and comedic (w/ songs), but takes a serious (and quite dark) turn. While it’s an uneven film, there are timeless themes w/in (based on a short story by W. Somerset Maugham).

The Story on Page One (1959)

[1] You’ll never see a movie with such long scenes again. It’s a shame, because they were very absorbing, with Franciosa really ratcheting up the fireworks.

[2] People who knew her say she was much like the character of Josephine – quiet, shy, insecure and sweet. Hayworth doesn’t exhibit much personality in this, but then, probably the unhappy Josephine wouldn’t have either.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

An elderly woman, Mrs. Brown (Katherine Squire), approaches a surly, down-on-his-luck  lawyer, Victor Santini (Anthony Franciosa), desperate for representation for her daughter. Mrs. Brown knew Victor’s (deceased) mother, who told her that he was a Harvard grad and experienced w/ trials. Victor (who’s more interested in drinking) tries to dissuade the woman, but she’s insists on him hearing out her story. 

L.A. housewife/mother, Jo Morris (Hayworth- then 40 y.o.), is very unhappy; her husband/police detective, Mike (Alfred Ryder), is emotionally abusive. Hayworth’s looks are underplayed in this film; she comes off as a bit tired, anxious, and isn’t dressed glamorously. Jo feels sympathy for an accountant/widower, Larry Ellis (Gig Young), and they start seeing each other. They break up, but Jo’s mother (Mrs. Brown) urges her to reach out again. Larry and Jo meet; she learns that his young son was killed in an accident. They finally spend one night at his hotel, and realize that they still love each other. Larry’s  mother, Mrs. Ellis (Mildred Dunnock), shows up on Jo’s doorstep one day, just as Mike is going to work. Jo is stunned when Mrs. Ellis explains that she hired a private detective to follow Larry; she threatens to reveal all to Mike (unless Jo stays away). One weekend, the family goes to a wedding, where Mike gets very drunk. When they get home, Larry is waiting to speak to Jo (after the others are asleep). She lets him into the kitchen and Larry explains/apologizes about his mother. Mike comes down the stairs (holding his gun), thinking there could be a burglar. When he sees Jo embracing Larry, Mike fights w/ Larry and the gun goes off. Mike is dead; the adulterous couple find themselves on trial for their lives (yet refuse to turn against each other). 

It turns out that Victor (who cleans up nice) is a fine lawyer; he’s confident in the courtroom and passionate about getting justice for his client. He faces some tough opposition from a tough/elderly prosecutor (played by Sanford Meisner, known as an acting coach). While Meisner was exposed to method acting (w/ its emphasis on “affective memory”), his approach was based on “the reality of doing.” Since most of this film is the trial, it will appeal to those who like courtroom dramas (and a lot of dialogue). There isn’t any flair w/ the direction; it was done by the writer, Clifford Odets. As several viewers have noticed, the supporting characters, esp. Victor and the two mothers, are more interesting than the leads. 

Reviews of Recently Viewed Films

Terminal Station (1953) starring Jennifer Jones & Montgomery Clift

Last week, I saw this rare little gem of a movie one afternoon (on TCM); the David O. Selznick cut is titled Indiscretion of an American Wife. Then, I decided to check out the slightly longer version from the Italian director, Vittorio De Sica(Amazon Prime); it contains a a few more (ambiguous) lines/scenes. De Sica’s films are known for romantic neo-realism. My parents (fans of Sophia Loren) really enjoyed Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964) which both won Oscars. 

If my art seems pessimistic, it is a consequence of my continuing optimism and its disillusion. At least I have enthusiasm. It is necessary to all professions to have enthusiasm in order to have success. -Vittorio De Sica

Why did you come with me? -Giovanni asks Mary

You didn’t look very wicked. I’m not an imaginative woman. It was you. It was Rome! And I’m a housewife from Philadelphia. -Mary replies

A married American woman, Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) has been involved for a month w/ a slightly younger Italian-American teacher, Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift), in Rome while visiting relatives. One rainy morning, Mary suddenly decides to return home to her husband and young daughter, but w/o telling anyone (aside from her nephew, played by a young Richard Beymer). She goes to the (newly built) train terminal, realizes that she is not at all sure about leaving, and agonizes over her decision. Giovanni joins her at the station, very confused and hurt, as she had just told him “I love you” the previous night.  

[1] This is such a contained, focused film, and demands so much of its two actors, every little nuance matters in a kind of exciting dramatic way. The closest thing this compares to, as two lovers or would be lovers talk in a train station, is Brief Encounter (1945), and that’s a masterpiece of acting and cinema both. Here, with Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones, it comes close.

[2] Jennifer Jones, beyond radiant in her prime-of-life womanhood, exudes a sensuality that both contrasts strikingly with her 1950s-prim exterior and celebrates the troubled woman within…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

There is plenty of drama behind this film! Producer Selznick (then married to Jones), wanted to have a slick romance depicted; De Sica wanted to show a ruined romance (which was fully supported by Clift). De Sica favored realism, so wasn’t interested in Hollywood-style close-ups; Selznick eventually hired cinematographer Oswald Morris to film some of these. Each day on the set, Selznick had critical letters for De Sica (who didn’t know English). The script was altered several times, as the two men had such different visions. Two scenes were written by Truman Capote, who gets screenplay credit. 

The Violent Men (1954) starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, & Edward G. Robinson

Never meet the enemy on his terms. -John says to his ranch hands

I’ll fight for the privilege of being left alone. -John explains to Lee 

A former Union Army officer, John Parrish (Glenn Ford), fully recovered from his war wounds, plans to sell his ranch to the wealthy owner of Anchor Ranch, Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson) and move east w/ his fiancee, Caroline (May Wynn). However, the low price offered by Wilkison, and his hired mens’ bullying tactics, make Parrish think again. When one of his young ranch hands is murdered, he decides to stay and fight, using his battle know-how. At Anchor Ranch, Lew’s shrewd wife, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), has been having an affair w/ his handsome younger brother, Cole (Brian Keith), who has a Mexican girlfriend, Elena (Lita Milan), that he supports in town. Lew and Martha’s 20-something daughter, Judith (Dianne Foster), has become distant and angry; she has suspected deception in her home.

I know what you’re thinking- whoa, there are a lot of ladies in this Western! I was watching this at my dad’s; even he noticed this fact. Well, not all of these women are well-developed. Caroline seems like she’d marry any guy to get out of her hometown. Elena loves Cole desperately, but we don’t know much about her; her sudden/violent action at the end is quite unexpected (bordering on soap opera). Judith, who’s very much a “daddy’s girl,” is intrigued by Parrish, yet also abhors the violence that ensues during the stampede. Some viewers commented that in order to get a big star like Stanwyck, the role of Martha must’ve been bulked up by the writers. Who doesn’t like Stanwyck!? But I was expecting this film to be more about Parrish. 

[1] The Fifties was the age of the adult western, themes were entering into horse operas that hadn’t been explored before. There’s enough traditional western stuff …and plenty for those who are addicted to soap operas as well.

[2] …the actors in question deserved a better story from which to work from, it is, when all is said and done, a plot that has been milked for all it’s worth, and then some. …still a very rewarding film regardless of the missed opportunities evident with the production.

I learned that this film was shot partly in Old Tucson; my dad noticed this before I did! The cinematography is well done, which is a must for a Western. The best action scene is the one between the unapologetic/violent cowboy, Matlock (one of Lew’s men), and Parrish in the saloon. Ford plays it so cool; he can handle himself w/ a gun man-to-man. This isn’t quite a hit, but worth a look.

The Candidate (1972) starring Robert Redford

…one of the many great movies about the world of politics. It holds up as well today as it did in 1972 (maybe even better). 

A sad commentary on the way things work. Very relevant. I recommend it for fans of Robert Redford or anybody interested in politics 

It’s fair to say that many Americans are fed up w/ politics these days- LOL! It’s refreshing to take a day (or even a few hours) avoiding the news, even if you’re a news junkie (like me). This film was recently shown on TCM; I’d heard much about it, but never watched it. Also, who doesn’t love Redford!? Peter Boyle plays the political expert who convinces Redford to run for Senate (Democratic side, of course). Look out for cameos from journo Mike Barnicle (currently seen on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) and Redford’s real-life pal, Natalie Wood (playing herself).   

 

 

 

Show Boat (1951) starring Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, & Howard Keel

The Cotton Blossom, owned by the Hawks family, is a show boat known for musical entertainment traveling down the Mississippi River. Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner) and her husband, Steve (Robert Sterling), are the leading actors of the show. After a jealous boat hand calls the local police on Julie (who’s father was white and mother black), they’re forced to leave; interracial marriages were forbidden (in the 1890s). Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson), Captain Andy’s (Joe E. Brown) pretty young daughter, becomes the new attraction; she has a great smile, a good voice, and learned much by watching Julie. Her leading man is Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel), a charming/handsome gambler, who is impressed w/ her at first sight. The two fall quickly in love and marry, w/o the approval of her mother, Parthy (Agnes Moorhead).

Nolie soon faces reality; gambling means more to her husband than anything. She confronts him after he gambles away their fortune; he leaves in the middle of the night. Nolie runs into two old friends, Ellie May and Frank (Marge and Gower Champion), who sang and danced on the show boat. They’re going to perform at a nightclub; Nolie tags along. None of them know that Julie is working at the same club; she is backstage and recognizes the song Nolie sings. Julie leaves the club abruptly, angering the manager and owner, b/c she hears that Nolie needs a job.

A few yeard later, Julie meets Gaylord on a gambling boat, and realizes that he’s Nolie’s runaway husband. Julie gives him a piece of her mind, and shows him an ad w/ the captain, Nolie, and his little daughter. Gaylord swears that he never knew he had a child. Julie begs him, if he ever sees her old friend, to never tell how low she has sunk. Gaylord decides to go to Natchez (where the show boat is docked) and seek forgiveness from his family.

I’ve seen this colorful MGM musical (written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II) maybe 3 times. I recall loving the songs (and having the CD); my favorite songs are “Ol’ Man River” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage.” Looking at it today (on TCM), there are some pretty good performances (esp. from Gardner). The role of Julie (who passes as white) is tragic, though she is beautiful, talented, and loyal (esp. to Steve, who eventually leaves her). She turns to alcohol and her singing suffers. At the end, Julie is left w/ nothing, b/c this society has no place for her.

[1] Ava is, as always, ridiculously and insanely gorgeous. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of her than I did. It’s a stretch for a white woman to play a bi-racial woman, but she did it with what seemed like such ease. She accompanies so much with a look (which is evident as she watches Gay and Nolie sail off together with Kim — you all know what I’m talking about). 

[2] Now for Marge & Gower Champion: who couldn’t love them? Gower is this sort of… fluid-like creature with a stature and grace like Fred Astaire, but instead of Astaire’s “lanky movements” that defined his style, he somehow executes the more athletic, brisk movements that defined Gene Kelly’s style. And Marge has to be just about the cutest little person I have ever seen (great facial expressions!) and one of the most talented dancers… I’ve ever seen grace a screen. “I Could Fall Back on You” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” are two of the most outstanding moments in the movie. You’ll love them.

[3] Musically of course, the film is a masterpiece and though my favourite tune is “Make Believe”, I was extremely impressed by the version of Ol Man River sung by the actor William Warfield who must have had one of the most brilliant voices I have ever hear! I confess to never having heard of this gentleman prior to seeing the film and had imagined the singer to be Paul Robeson. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Some Trivia Behind the Film

  • The original production of Showboat opened in the Ziegfeld Theater on December 27, 1927 and ran for 572 performances.
  • Even though the character of “Magnolia” is supposed to look up to “Julie” in an older-sister type of relationship, in reality, Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner were born in the same year.
  • The Breen Censorship Office tried to raise an objection against the use of the “miscegenation sequence,” but they were unable to do so because the 1936 film had already used it (setting a precedent).
  • Lena Horne mentions in her biography that she wanted to do the role of Julie badly, but only got as far as performing a single number in the “Clouds” film in the opening “Show Boat” vignette. America was still a segregated nation in 1950; interracial romance was taboo onscreen.

A Star is Born (1937) starring Janet Gaynor & Fredric March

In rural North Dakota, a petite redheaded young woman, Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor), goes often to the movies; she also wants to be in them. When she admits this to her family, her little brother laughs, her father is confused, and her aunt considers it foolish (saying Esther needs a husband). Her 70-something grandmother, Lettie (May Robson), is the only one supports her, even giving Esther her own life savings. 
Esther, everyone in this world who has ever dreamed about better things has been laughed at, don’t you know that? But there’s a difference between dreaming and doing. The dreamers just sit around and moon about how wonderful it would be if only things were different. And the years roll on and by and by they grow and they forget everything, even about their dreams. -Grandmother (Lettie) explains to Esther
After a month, Esther still has no job, but makes a new pal who also lives in her hotel- Danny (Andy Devine)- an aspiring director. In a few more months, Danny gets an assistant director job. One night, he recommends Esther for a waitress gig at the home of a studio head, Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou). Norman Maine (Fredric March), a handsome/successful/middle-aged actor, can’t take his eyes off her; this is the same man she watched growing up! 
Do you mind if I take just one more look? -Norman asks Esther (after dropping her off after the studio party)
With some prodding from Norman, Oliver prepares a contract for Esther (AKA Vicki Lester). It turns out that her artless personality and girl-next-door looks appeal to audiences. After they marry, the couple go on a honeymoon out West, and Norman even gives up alcohol. And the rest is what dreams are made of, right? Well, it’s not that easy… and Esther discovers the reality behind the glamour quick enough.
His work is beginning to interfere with his drinking. -A reporter comments re: Norman
Norman’s previous heavy drinking, as well as late-night practical jokes, have put off many directors. Though he brought the studio success for many years, Oliver explains that it’s no longer profitable to keep on Norman. The actor says he understands, yet finds it increasingly difficult (on his ego) to be a house husband. Alas, Esther’s love is not enough for Norman! 
[1] March displays just the right degree of brashness, of knowingness, and a combination of ego and a real actor’s almost complete lack of ego. It’s a miraculous piece of work. The script for this version was partly written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell and it shows. It’s an acerbic and, at times, savage movie about the movies, quite cynical for a major studio picture of it’s day.
[2] March… strikes just the right balance between Norman’s vulnerability and his pomposity. You never doubt that he loves Esther.  
[3] I guess Hollywood knows itself better than anyone else and films about the industry can be scathing. The star is a creature with a fragile ego, one moment a whim can move mountains, a slip in public affections and no one wants to know you. March as Maine has been slipping for some time and he catches on, way too late. But as March is going down, Gaynor is on the up escalator and they meet mid point and fall in love. How they deal with their joint careers or lack thereof in one case is what A Star is Born is all about. 
[4] This movie has been done three times: this one in 1937, then in 1954 and finally 1976. Of course, this story – rags to riches in the acting business – was done first by others – principally Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory (1933) and, oddly enough, again in Stage Door (1937), and again with Hepburn ably assisted by a host of well-known Hollywood actors… The difference with Star, of course, is it’s maybe the first movie to dig into Hollywood screen acting and make an attempt to lay it bare.
-Excerpts from IMDB reviews
Some Trivia Behind the Film
  • The first all-color film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
  • The movie got its story-line from What Price Hollywood? (1932).
  • It has been speculated that the story was inspired by the real-life marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and her first husband, Frank Fay.
  • The character of Norman Maine was based on several real actors, including John Barrymore, who was considered for the role.
  • During Esther’s screen test, she is dressed in an antebellum costume and surrounded by other actors in Civil War uniforms. This is an in-joke reference to the fact that the producer of A Star is Born, David O. Selznick, had recently bought the rights to adapt Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind and was undergoing a highly publicized national search for an actress to play the lead role, Scarlett O’Hara.