Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) starring Jose Ferrer

I think MANY people already know the story: In 1640s France, Cyrano (Jose Ferrer), a swordsman/poet (who has a way w/ words and a VERY large nose) hopelessly loves his beautiful cousin Roxane (Mala Powers). His friend, Le Bret, urges him to tell her his feelings, BUT Cyrano thinks he’s TOO ugly and will be rejected. Cyrano is some years older than Roxane; they played together as kids and she trusts him totally. One day, at the bakery (owned by aspiring poet Rageneau), she confesses to Cyrano her love for the handsome/tongue-tied Christian de Neuvilette (William Prince), a new soldier in the Corps de Guards. Christian feels inadequate b/c he can NEVER find the right words to express his love. Cyrano sets out to help Christian woo Roxane w/ words (via letters/speeches). A scheming/older nobleman, De Guiche, is plotting to marry Roxane. Cyrano distracts the man while a priest secretly marries Roxane and Christian, right before the Guard are sent to fight (in war w/ Spain).

Each night, Cyrano (who is romantic and reckless) runs across enemy lines to deliver letters to Roxane. In time, Christian realizes that Cyrano loves Roxane, too. Of course, Cyrano denies it, saying that he has become emotional ONLY b/c he loves his own words. Rageneau brings food to the hungry soldiers; Roxane is w/ him (as she was desperate to see Christian). The couple is reunited before Christian is fatally wounded. As he lies dying, Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane ONLY loved him. Roxane finds a final letter peeking out off Christian’s pocket.

For the next 20 years, Cyrano continues w/ his poetry (and upsetting his enemies, incl. Cardinal Richelieu and De Guiche) and training of soldiers. One night, De Guiche’s men plan an attack (which looks like an accident); Cyrano is thrown to the ground and injures his head. The doctor tells him to stay in bed and rest, or he will surely die. Cyrano doesn’t listen and walks to the convent (Roxane’s home) to tell her the week’s gossip. She takes out a piece of paper from her locket and asks Cyrano to read it- Christian’s last letter. The words have faded toward the end. The daylight is also fading in the garden (where they sit), the nuns are gathering for evening prayers, while Cyrano recites the letter. Roxane finally realizes that he was the man who won her heart, NOT Christian! She rushes to his side, crying, and asking why he never revealed his feelings. Cyrano replies: “The words were mine, but the blood was his.” He gets up (sensing the end is near), pulls out his sword, and does “battle” w/ enemies (ideas) he hates before dying.

I’m a big fan of the 1990 French film starring Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano), Anne Brochet (Roxane), and Vincent Perez (Christian). The cinematography was amazing, as was the music. This film was made w/ a small budget; some of the action scenes are TOO dark. Though Ferrer (who was married for many years to actress/singer Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt) is VERY engaging in the title role, his co-stars (Powers and Prince) are NOT that interesting. It’s easy to buy Brochet as a sensitive/literary-minded woman; Perez is NOT only gorgeous, he brought depth to Christian. As for the swordsman-ship, Ferrer carries it off well (as do the supporting actors). Also, Ferrer has the trim figure of a soldier (unlike Depardieu). Ferrer’s voice is very confident and memorable; he really inhabits the role. In the final scene, you can’t help BUT become emotional!

Producer Stanley Kramer was VERY worried about the box-office prospects, complaining that no one would be able to pronounce the name of the hero/title or that of the lead actor (who came from the theater world). There are no huge sets or spectacular camera shots; it’s the play, performed (w/ added scenes in prose rather than blank verse translated from French). The film was a modest success, partly due to the low budget ($400,000) and to Ferrer’s (Best Actor) Oscar win. He was the first Hispanic actor (born in Puerto Rico) that won an Academy Award. Some of you may have seen his son, Miguel Ferrer, who was a highly respected character actor (and the spitting image of his father).

[1] …this film boasts what is certainly one of the greatest performances in the history of film–and especially American film. José Ferrer… gives the performance of his life as Cyrano. His portrayal is in every way the equal of Depardieu’s, and as far as I am concerned, even better. Depardieu relies on sincerity and subtle facial expressions. Ferrer also has these, but he has in addition one of the most beautiful, rich voices ever to come out of the theatre, and magnificent enunciation as well. His portrayal is more flamboyant than Depardieu, and he shows a heartbreaking sense of tragedy as he realizes that the beautiful Roxane will probably never be his. The “big moment” in the final scene is shattering in Ferrer’s hands.

[2] Jose Ferrer covers all the possible emotions an actor can in his role. He is comedic, brave, adventurous, romantic, self-sacrificing, elegant, pitiful, nimble-witted, gallant, prideful, humble, he fully recognizes his short-comings, and, most of all, he is true to his code of honor.

[3] Jose Ferrer delivers the performance of a lifetime that strikes deep into the heart. Anyone who has even been mocked, scored, or ridiculed, or simply felt unworthy of the affections of another will sympathize with Cyrano…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews


Advertisements

Lured (1947) starring Lucille Ball & George Sanders

In this film noir (directed by Douglas Sirk), a serial killer in London is murdering young women he meets through personals columns of newspapers. He announces each murder to the police by sending them a poem. Research carried out by Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) reveal that the killer’s verses are strongly influenced by Baudelaire who saw a link between beauty and death. After a taxi dancer disappears, her concerned American friend/co-worker, Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball), comes to Scotland Yard (the police), looking for answers. Sandra came from NYC to dance in the chorus of a London show (which closed early). After speaking w/ Sandra (a fiesty, sarcastic, and pretty young woman), Inspector Temple is impressed. He quickly enlists her to answer personal ads, in hopes of luring the killer. Sandra is given a police ID and a small handgun!

There are moments of humor in this movie (which is a remake of a French film). Boris Karloff adds humor to this (rather dark) tale, giving a brief performance as an insane dress designer. Officer H.R. Barrett (George Zucco) is the veteran cop assigned as back-up for Sandra; he and Ball make a fun team w/ good chemistry. While waiting for her mystery date at the opera, Sandra meets sauve and wealthy Robert Fleming (George Sanders). I think Sanders is fun to watch in ALL his roles, MOST notably in All About Eve. In no time, Robert and Sandra develop feelings for each other; she becomes less guarded and he drops his playboy ways. The streets are NOT safe; Sandra is put in danger more than once. Who is the killer? Could it be Robert?

[1] This is a very enjoyable film. What you get here is a lot of talk and character studies. Lured is a good, old-fashioned mystery yarn. The killer is painfully obvious about halfway through, but the actors go through the motions with obvious relish. 

[2] For a serial killer film, this one must rank as the most reserved and dignified ever made. No blood nor gore, just urbane and sophisticated dialogue throughout, and especially from the killer…

[3] The emphasis in making this film was clearly on producing an upbeat thriller which has many of the characteristics of a routine whodunit (e.g. numerous red herrings) and judged purely on this basis, it is very successful and entertaining.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews


The Awful Truth (1937) starring Cary Grant & Irene Dunne/His Girl Friday (1940) starring Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell

The Awful Truth

Before their divorce becomes final, Jerry (Cary Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) BOTH do their best to ruin each other’s plans for remarriage. They divorced (hastily) b/c they suspected that cheating was going on; Lucy learns that he lied re: going away to Florida and Jerry is VERY disturbed upon learning that she was stuck (overnight) w/ her (suave/French) music teacher. It’s up to the audience to decide IF they actually cheated! Lucy meets an earnest Okie oilman- Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy)- while living w/ her outgoing auntie at a fancy hotel. Jerry visits their pet dog (a fox terrier), Mr. Smith, as was decreed by the judge; the dog (obviously) doesn’t like the couple being apart. One night, while Lucy and Daniel are out at a fancy club, they run into Jerry and his date- a wanna-be actress named “Dixie Belle Lee.” She is young, blonde, and Southern; she reveals that she changed her name (b/c her family disapproves of show business). They all watch (w/ bemusement) as Dixie Belle happily screeches out a song; at certain points, her skirt blows up (a la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch). One day, BOTH the music teacher and Jerry show up at Lucy’s hotel and confusion ensues! Jerry seriously begins seeing a socialite- Barbara Vance- who is covered in the society pages. Jerry tells Lucy that he’s going to meet the parents; she barges in on them, calling herself Jerry’s “sister.” The Vances, a humorless bunch, look on w/ horror as Lucy does her own impression of Dixie Belle, complete w/ a burlesque-style dance.

Much of the film (adapted from a Broadway play) was improvised by its director, Leo McCarey, and the cast each day. This caused Grant much anxiety, BUT it became a big hit. After a time, Grant realized that McCarey was deliberately creating nervous tension in him to enhance the performance. By keeping the cast slightly off balance, the director was building scenes from spontaneous moments between the actors. There is clever/fast dialogue, physical humor (incl. w/ the energetic dog), and great chemistry between the leads. The supporting actors do a good job, too; they add to this screwball comedy.

His Girl Friday

It all happened in the “Dark Ages” of the Newspaper game- When to a reporter “Getting That Story” justified anything short of murder. Incidentally you will see in this picture no resemblance to the men and women of the press of Today. Ready? Well, once upon a time… –Opening title card for the film

Having been away 4 mos, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), walks into the offices of The Morning Post, where she is a star reporter; her purpose is to tell her boss/editor, Walter Burns (Grant), that she is quitting. She got a divorce in Reno (from Walter- who admits he “wasn’t much of a husband”) and had a vacation in Bermuda. Hildy wants to “have a home” and “live like a real human being,” instead of chasing after stories. She plans to take the 4PM train to Albany, where she will be getting married the next day to an earnest/doting insurance agent, Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy- yet again the guy who doesn’t get the girl). Walter doesn’t want to lose Hildy, as a reporter or a wife, so he does whatever he can to delay her trip and convince her that she belongs w/ the paper- and him!

You’ve got an old fashioned idea divorce is something that lasts forever, ’til death do us part.’ Why divorce doesn’t mean anything nowadays, Hildy, just a few words mumbled over you by a judge. -Walter explains to Hildy

What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick... -Walter says

Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced. -Hildy retorts

Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering. -Walter replies

He forgets the office when he’s with me. He doesn’t treat me like an errand boy, either, Walter. He treats me like a woman. -Hildy comments re: her fiance, Bruce

This (fast-talking) screwball comedy influenced MANY films that came after it, from rom coms to workplace comedies. There are jokes aimed at the behavior, looks, and speech of journos (who were almost ALL men that time). I’ve seen this film several times over the years; I recently learned that Hildy was first written as a man (in the play- The Front Page). For the film, the studio (producers) decided to change it to a woman, so there could be a romance (instead of bromance) element. In the middle section of the film, Hildy is at the helm of the story, and we see things from her POV. The other reporters covering the case admire Hildy for her talent (writing); they even bet on how long she’ll last as a housewife! The female Hildy was a rarity for Hollywood; she had a career, was confident, smart, and independent-minded. She wears cool hats, coats, and (menswear-inspired) skirt suits. Grant (then in his 30s) looks great (as usual); he projects charm, humor, and mischievousness in his scenes. Walter (who rarely shows vulnerability, BUT is still easy to relate to) is one of Grant’s MOST known/loved characters.

Possessed (1931) starring Joan Crawford & Clark Gable

The script is sharp and believable, the direction good and there are some incredibly lavish settings. Also Crawford and Gable are just great in their roles and both of them look incredibly beautiful.

It’s in these early Crawford films that you really see what the shouting was all about. She is beautiful, vulnerable, strong, sweet and, most importantly, a powerful screen presence. And she can show you all those sides of herself in the same scene.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

If I were a man it wouldn’t frighten you! You’d think it was right for me to go out and get anything I could out of life, and use anything I had to get it. Why should men be so different? All they’ve got are their brains and they’re not afraid to use them. Well neither am I! -Marion declares to her mother (before leaving home)

This is a short (76 mins) and simple story re: Marion Martin (Joan Crawford), a young woman working at a small factory town. She dreams of the good life, so rejects the cement worker who wants to marry her, Al Manning (Wallace Ford), and leaves home for NYC. Marion meets wealthy lawyer- Mark Whitney (Clark Gable)- and becomes his mistress. Three yrs. go by and we see Marion in her spacious apt, wearing fancy clothes and jewels. Though she yearns for the status/respectability of marriage, Mark doesn’t want to marry again. He was scandalized when his ex-wife cheated on him w/ their driver. One day, Marion (who goes by “Mrs. Moreland” and is assumed to be a widow) learns that Al is coming to the city on business. Al admits that Marion leaving him was the best thing that happened in his life; he worked hard and became a contractor. Al wants to take Marion out. Marion is deeply in love w/ Mark, BUT also worried about her future. Does Mark love Marion and will he change his mind? Or will Marion settle for Al this time around?

Marion is the hero of her own story; the audience wants her to get a happy ending. Notice how kindly Marion speaks to the unsophisticated mistress of one of Mark’s party guests; she realizes that they are in the same boat. Gable (w/o his trademark mustache) is only 30 y.o. here. He does a good job, though (as MANY critics have said), he doesn’t have much range. Crawford was just 25 y.o. in this movie, yet she commands the screen w/ her confidence, physical grace, expressive eyes and- of course- voice! I was surprised b/c I’d ONLY seen her in ’40s & ’50s films. This film was made before the Hays Code came into effect; it deals w/ mature subject matters in subtle ways.

Mary Queen of Scots (NOW PLAYING) starring Saoirse Ronan & Margot Robbie

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for the film.

Mary Queen of Scots explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart. Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I. Each young Queen beholds her “sister” in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage versus independence. Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening Elizabeth’s sovereignty. Betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each court imperil both thrones – and change the course of history. -Summary from Focus Features

While cannot highly recommend this film, it does have it’s strengths: a very fine cast, enriching music, lush set design, and gorgeous costumes.

The film is a well-intended historical drama that nevertheless falls short of expectations for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, what should be palace drama that raises the hairs on your arms, plays out meekly for much of the movie. Second, the movie’s pacing is too slow… Lastly… the movie tries to set it up as “Mary vs. Elizabeth”, yet then forgets to provide an in-depth charter for Elizabeth.

There is no clarity in why one was either Protestant or Roman would be such an insurmountable issue, partly because John Knox was so poorly written (despite having hidden the very talented and capable David Tennant behind all the hair).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) were cousins and BOTH concerned w/ marriage (or avoiding it), as well as children (or succession). Mary ALSO wants the throne of England b/c she is a Stuart; Elizabeth is the (illegitimate to Catholics) daughter of Henry VIII and his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn. Ronan (NOT yet 25 y.o.) is a FAB actress, thus capable of playing the regal/powerful Mary. The talent is NOT in question; she tries to rise above the (mostly mediocre, sometimes laughable) dialogue. The screenplay is by Beau Willimon (House of Cards) and John Guy, author of the biography- Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Many critics/viewers have commented on her Irish accent; it’s VERY noticeable in this film. Why did the director NOT have Ronan modify her accent to reflect Mary!? She could’ve done a Scottish accent or a French one (since Mary grew up in France). Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) used a Scottish accent.

Ronan has zero chemistry w/ her love interest, Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden- a 28 y.o. from Scotland). Lowden is just TOO much of a lightweight (lacking screen presence, aside from conventional good looks- IF that’s your thing) for the role. Even in the emotional scenes, I was bored by his acting! During MOST of his romantic scenes w/ Ronan, the two desi 20-something gals sitting next to me giggled (perhaps they felt the awkwardness). Though we start out thinking that Mary and Hadley could be happy together, it’s NOT the case. Then the plot veers off the rails- MORE unexpected (and ludicrous) than I ever imagined!

In contrast to Lowden, Joe Alwyn (also in The Favourite opposite Emma Stone) as Elizabeth’s “special friend” Sir Robert Dudley seems a BIT more interesting. He also has V conventional good looks, BUT is brooding and believable. As you may recall, other Dudleys were been played by the powerhouse veteran actor- Jeremy Irons (HBO’s Elizabeth I w/ Helen Mirren)- and the dark/enigmatic Joseph Fiennes (Elizabeth w/ Cate Blanchett). Alwyn and Margot Robbie (who I hadn’t seen before) have a few moments; they relate well to each other. The main question I have: Did Elizabeth really send Dudley to the Scottish court as a (potential) husband for Mary?

Aside from Ronan, I just came away feeling V bad for the (older/experienced) actors; this includes Guy Pierce (Lord Cecil- Elizabeth’s loyal counselor), the FAB at nearly 50 y.o. Adrian Lester (ambassador Lord Randolph), David Tennant (John Knox- anti-Catholic leader), and Brendan Coyle (Earl of Lennox- Darnley’s father). Actually, Pierce does get a FEW nice moments, incl. one scene alone w/ Elizabeth. Lester (best known here in the U.S. for Primary Colors) is a tall/handsome/British theater actor who happens to be black. As in theater world (where director Josie Rourke hails from), this film uses colorblind casting for several supporting and MANY background roles. My good friend thought that was strange; it doesn’t fit w/ the historical period. I’m NOT saying there were zero POC in these royal courts. I wouldn’t have a problem IF there was a basis for it OR if the movie worked well! After all, one of my fave films- Much Ado About Nothing– has Denzel Washington as a Spanish nobleman and Keanu Reeves as his younger brother. Also, Lester has a FAB smile, BUT no smiles here!

It took me a few mins. to recognize Tennant (Doctor Who); he is nearly hidden under a long wig, heavy beard, and dark robe. His character is SO one note- it’s laughable (which is what a few in my audience did); he is TOO good for such a role! There was a LOT of anti-Catholic sentiment in court of Elizabeth (and perhaps also among MANY of the commoners), BUT why make Knox a cartoonish villain!? Even Jordi Molla’s King Phillip II (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) was more nuanced. Coyle (beloved as Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) doesn’t have much to do, aside from looking disgusted/disappointed (w/ his son) or smirking (as he’s plotting the overthrow of Mary). Sure, it MAY be fun to be a baddie for a change, BUT this is just a waste!

The scenery is quite lovely to look at and the costumes look historically accurate, though FEW students of history objected to the use of black cloth. MOST of the men, incl. the Scottish nobles, wear black. The ladies in waiting to Mary wear black, too. Bess (Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians) as Elizabeth’s confidante/lady-in-waiting wears shades of gray. Where is the tartan cloth which prominent in the Stuart family? The thick makeup and bright red wig worn by Elizabeth in the (pivotal) meeting scene reminded some viewers of a clown. We know that Elizabeth used white powder to cover up her pox scars (after being stricken w/ the disease in her late 20s). As for the action- that’s ALSO a disappointment. The military battle, where Mary’s soldiers face her older half-brother’s men, is more like a small skirmish.

Speaking of the half-brother, the actor has some potential. The men in this film are mostly drunk/useless/jokes or plotting/power-hungry; aside from Dudley and Cecil, none are loyal, thoughtful, or kind-hearted! Even Mary’s long-time ally, Lord Bothwell (Martin Compston), turns against her in the end; this is shocking/sudden. OK, that was a BIT interesting; this actor (who appeared on many TV series, incl. Monarch of the Glen) did well w/ his role. The ladies-in-waiting (incl. Chan) are a physically diverse group; they get almost zero character development. In real life, these were noblewomen who had personalities and lives of their own (aside from attending to their queens). In the eyes of MANY critics, Cate Blanchett is the ultimate Queen Elizabeth. I expected to see a BIT more of Elizabeth; Robbie did a decent job (and her English accent was good). Unless you really LOVE historical fiction, skip this film. Luckily, I saw it for free (w/ my Regal Club points)!