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Archive for the ‘Barbara O’Neil’ Category

I Remember Mama

13 Jan

I Remember Mama — directed by George Stevens. Comedy/Drama.  The love of a mother for her family forges a life for them in pre-WW I San Francisco. 134 minutes Black and White 1948

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Stevens had been a cameraman all during the 20s and his technical grasp of filmmaking is unparalleled by any American director of his time, so just watch how he gives what he gives you – if you can, for his scenic power is so engrossing one cannot detach from the gift itself to pay attention to the wrappings which are an integral part of it. He will make you a voyeur by making you listen through a window. He will make you an eavesdropper by allowing you to hear what two characters standing on a street with their back to you are saying. He will hold you at the distance respect requires as a woman retreats across a barnyard and fades into the unapproachable solitude of widowhood. Or he will bring you so close up into the face of two characters that you are actually a part of the speechless energy between them. He will allow you in. He will keep you at bay. He will let you watch something in the corner. He is always aware of you, always wanting your participation and understanding, but he won’t hammer it home. He will often catch you in with the unexpected. He always has something for you, but he let’s you do your part by yourself. I saw this when it came out and it presents the ideal mother. She is played by an actress I don’t ordinarily like, Irene Dunne, but here I not only admire the actress I admire the character. The film is divided in chapters, each one recounting an episode of heroic devotion to her children. None of them are cloying, although the number of them might be said to be. Dunne’s playing is impeccable, and so is her accent, as are all of the Norwegian accents. She wore padding and no make-up. She was nominated for an Oscar for this. Nicolas Musuraca, famed “master of light,” filmed it. He was nominated for an Oscar for this. Barbara Bel Geddes played the elder daughter and narrator. I identify with this character because were I a female I would be her type, and because, like me, she is a writer. She was nominated for an Oscar for this. When Jessica Tandy turned down the role of the shy aunt, Stevens said, “Let the script girl play her,” so the script girl did, and a long career was born. Ellen Corby was nominated for an Oscar for this. Oskar Homolka had played Uncle Chris on the stage with Mady Christians and Marlon Brando, and when he is on camera Stevens gives him full sway in bringing to life this crusty, rude, frightening character. He was nominated for an Oscar for this. Save for Bel Geddes, the children in the film tend to be little Hollywood child actors, but it would be not before long that Stevens found Brandon de Wilde. Barbara O’Neil, Florence Bates, Edgar Bergen, Rudy Vallee, Cedric Hardwick, Philip Dorn fill out and give depth to the cast.

After The War, Stevens came home shell-shocked and did nothing, but eventually formed a company with Frank Capra and William Wyler. A great post WW II trilogy emerged. Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is about the home-front. Wyler’s The Best Years Of Our Lives is about home-coming. Stevens’ I Remember Mama is about home, the thing fought for and the values that made the fight prevail, set even before WW I, in the city George Stevens grew up in at the time he grew up in it.

 

Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

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It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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All This, And Heaven Too

23 Jul

All This, And Heaven Too – Directed by Anatole Litvak. Women’s Romance Drama. A mismatched royal couple takes into their palace a governess, despite all warnings to her not to enter therein. 2 hours and 23 three minutes. Black and White. 1940.

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She enunciates every syllable as though her tongue were pinking shears. Jack Warner sent down messages to her to cut it out. She didn’t. But he was right. No one talks that way. And such antics bring into question not what sort of an actress Bette Davis was but was she an actress at all. She had very little training when she left John Murray Anderson’s drama school to go off to play stock. She had appeared in lots of movies by the time this film was made and won the two Oscars she would ever win. She was 35. She was in her heyday, which would end with a triumphant clang in 1950 with All About Eve. She had come into films in the early 30s and made her way to Warner Brothers where she made a series of films that enraged her. She was always enraged. Sometimes it was hidden, as here. But it is still implicit. In the clipping of those clipped syllables. Was she an actress, or was she someone who was just so mad it carried a force-field around her that others called stardom. Was that anger what her female audience actually wanted to see, acting be damned, for she surely was a woman’s film star, and as such made a mint for Warners? Here she plays a governess of four children, and she says she loves them, and everyone says she loves them, but it looks to me that she is just doing a favor by being nicer to them than their dreadfully neurotic mother (a Bette Davis role), played with all out saliva in an Oscar-nominated performance by Barbara O’Neil, who had just come off playing Scarlet’s mother in Gone With The Wind. Davis has opposite her here one of the few strong male actors ever to appear with her, the great Charles Boyer. Davis never has a real moment in the entire film. Except one. Watch for it. It comes at the end of the long candle-snuffing scene. Litvak said this film, got lost in the decor, gagged by too many candelabra. I don’t think that’s the trouble. All Bette Davis’s films of this era are like this, like Hamlet. They are dramas about a single person; when Hamlet is not on the stage, everyone is talking about him. So here. Underlying everything, an ego swollen by anger mobilized to hide the fear that her own natural talent was insufficient to the task. All her fabled confidence is bravado.

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