The History of The History of Tom Jones (1963)

TOM JONES (1963)

To view Tom Jones click here.

It often happens that something comes along, sets a standard, is recognized as being trailblazing, then gets copied and co-opted, until finally we take it for granted and think, “oh, that one’s so overrated.” Such is the case with an adaptation of a novel published in 1749 by the writer Henry Fielding. The title of the book, a comic novel, was The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling but the 1963 movie shortened it to the foundling’s name alone, Tom Jones. With the screenplay adapted for the screen by celebrated playwright John Osborne and directed with flair by Tony Richardson, Tom Jones hit the screen to great notices and, more importantly, a certain amount of awe for its style. A blurb from The New York Times‘s Bosley Crowther, slightly edited for length and clarity (where you see the ellipses), ended up serving as the film’s tagline in its advertisements: “Prepare yourself for… one of the wildest, bawdiest, and funniest comedies… ever brought to the screen.” Thus the adaptation of an 18th century comic novel became a 20th century movie blockbuster, but does it still work today? Indeed it does.

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In Spite of Myself, I Think I Might Like Stewart Granger

SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS (1948)

To view the “Early Stewart Granger” theme on FilmStruck click here.

I’ll admit that I’ve always been fairly ambivalent toward actor Stewart Granger (or “the other Jimmy Stewart,” as I like to call him). I’ve never found him, or his films, particularly entertaining. Every once in a while, I’ll find myself in the mood for a fluffy romantic adventure flick like King Solomon’s Mines (1950) or Bhowani Junction (1956), but that’s usually the extent of my Stewart Granger tolerance. If I’m craving a swashbuckling matinee idol, I usually reach for the real deal: Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power. And if I want a little extra sophistication with my swashbuckling, I go for the lush, velvet voiced Ronald Colman. Now, I don’t blame Stewart Granger for my lack of interest in his films. He has all the makings for a remarkable leading man: the requisite tall, dark and handsome physical characteristics; unwavering confidence; a proper British accent; cultured sensibilities; charismatic charm; and a healthy sexual appetite. (This is key for the so-called “bodice ripper” romance films.)

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Kaiju, Cocktails and Catastrophe: The X From Outer Space (1967)

X FROM OUTER SPACE, THE (1967)

To view The X from Outer Space click here.

“The monster is now on a rampage, headed for Tokyo.”

That line comes from a scene that lies at the heart of a movie I love, The X from Outer Space (1967). It belongs in the tradition of the Japanese Kaiju films, monster movies that enjoyed a golden period in the 1950s and 1960s, starting with the birth of Gojira (Godzilla) in 1954. There is a stylishness and wit to them that is often overlooked while everyone pokes fun at the man in the rubber monster suit. But just because the monster suits weren’t up to today’s standards of technologically advanced costume design, doesn’t mean the films weren’t well made in their own right. The X from Outer Space stands out as a favorite for several reasons, not the least of which is that for much of the movie, with its stylish astronauts in sharp suits and jumper dresses, it’s a late 1960s happening in space, and to mine a quote, it freaks me out!

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Under the Volcano (1984) with Albert Finney

MSDUNTH EC007

To view Under the Volcano click here.

One of my favorite actors is presently getting the red-carpet treatment at FilmStruck; “Starring Albert Finney” is a new theme that presents a batch of Finney’s films for your enjoyment including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Tom Jones (1963) and A Man of No Importance (1994). If you’re new to Finney, it is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with one of Britain’s finest exports and if you’re a longtime fan like myself, it’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with some of his best work.

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The Confession (1970) Takes No Prisoners

THE CONFESSION (1970)

To view The Confession click here.

One of the great things about the explosion of movie titles in the last few years, both streaming and on physical media, is how you can learn so much more about and totally reassess how you see a filmmaker. A favorite example I like to cite is Ingmar Bergman, whom I grew up watching in film classes via murky 16mm prints and borderline unwatchable VHS transfers. Now that we’ve had the chance to go back and see the majority of his work in pristine quality, it’s like pulling off a dirty pair of glasses to reveal a far more vibrant, multi-faceted filmmaker than before. [...MORE]

Party Girl: Nana (1926)

Nana (1926) Directed by Jean Renoir Shown: Catherine Hessling

To view Nana click here.

Jean Renoir considered Nana (1926) to be “my first film worth talking about.” An ambitious adaptation of the Emile Zola novel, Nana (Catherine Hessling) is an actress of limited means adept at manipulating men’s hearts, failing as a stage star but lavishly succeeding as an actor in her own life (a theme Renoir would return to throughout his career). After his scrappy independent production The Whirlpool of Fate (1925) failed to get much distribution, Renoir went big, making Nana a million franc French-German co-production.  It is an enormous step up in scale, going from shooting around his childhood haunts in Whirlpool to juggling multiple locations around Europe, as well as the egos of his international cast. Still experimenting stylistically, Nana, like Whirlpool, has expressionist touches at the edges of a realist drama. This tension is centered in the performance of Hessling (Renoir’s wife, real name Andrée Heuschling). A devotee of Gloria Swanson, she is elaborately made up and gives a performance of grand gestures and herky jerky movement. Renoir admiringly compared her to a “marionette.” It works for the character – a woman not in charge of her own life – but for audiences used to more naturalistic acting, it faced ridicule. But Nana is no joke, but a bold experiment in which Renoir toys with performance and camera movement to convey the unsaid.

 This is the second part of a series covering the films of Jean Renoir, 16 of which are streaming on FilmStruck. You can find the first entry on The Whirlpool of Fate here.

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Memphis: Last Stop on the Mystery Train (1989)

MYSTERY TRAIN (1989)

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Several years ago, I was visiting Memphis during Elvis Week, which is a week-long series of events in mid-August that commemorates the life and music of Elvis Presley. I made the travel arrangements for me and a companion, booking a motel near downtown. The famous Peabody Hotel was definitely out of our price range, but I wanted to be near the newly revitalized Beale Street area, so I selected something that did not seem too far from the city’s night life. When we arrived in Memphis, it was well after dark, but it was clear that I had selected a rat-trap on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. I walked up to the check-in window with the bullet-proof glass, while a party of mammoth proportions was underway in the parking lot. I remember hoping that the very loud party-goers were not guests of the motel.

As we walked toward our room on the second floor, we noticed most of the doors were missing the doorknobs. You could see into the rooms through the holes in the doors where the knobs used to be. Once inside our room, there was a couple of deadbolt locks and a door chain; fortunately, our door did not have a hole in it, though our outside knob was missing. Inside, the rug looked so greasy that we refused to take off our shoes, and some of the wallpaper was peeling off near the ceiling. And, gosh, was that a gunshot amidst the loud music, or a car backfiring? My companion suggested we stay the night, then look for another motel, though our options would be limited because, after all, it was Elvis Week. We searched for the phone book to start making the calls, but there was no phone book—until I noticed it was being used to prop up the broken leg of one of the beds.

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Sudden Fear (1952): Joan Crawford’s Shock to the System

SUDDEN FEAR (1952)

To view Sudden Fear click here.

As the first season of water cooler sensation Feud has recently finished airing, it’s funny to reflect how certain movie stars tend to surge in public interest at random intervals. Case in point: Joan Crawford, whose films have been TCM and home video favorites among younger viewers and who is now enjoying her biggest pop culture awareness since Faye Dunaway turned her into a domineering camp icon in Mommie Dearest (1981). It’s become common for movie fans to pigeonhole much of Crawford’s work as campy or, more commonly, as “women’s pictures,” which tends to fence them off into some kind of minor category apart from all those war films and biblical epics.

Well, the joke’s on those critics considering how little Crawford’s films have dated and how many people still watch them. You can certainly be amused by Joan’s more outrageous ventures into the surreal, e.g. Torch Song (1953), but she was a woman who could grab that camera and hold your gaze stronger than just about any other movie star out there. Fortunately she had a work ethic that wouldn’t quit and made loads of films both within and outside the studio system, which means you can spend much of your love stumbling on a Crawford film that doesn’t get regular play. [...MORE]

Beautiful Girls (1996) and Settling in for The Big Fade

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (1996)

To view Beautiful Girls click here.

Can you ever truly go home again? Well, the thing is, and rarely no one tells you this–and if they do, you certainly don’t believe it: when you do finally go back home, even if it’s just for a visit, it’s never the same as it was before you left. Ted Demme’s heartfelt Beautiful Girls (1996), explores not only the difficult nature of returning home and embracing the nostalgia of youth, but also the fear of commitment and growing up.

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Cowardice and Colonialism: The Four Feathers (1939)

FOUR FEATHERS, THE (1939)

To view The Four Feathers click here.

The novel that The Four Feathers (1939) is based upon was written by A.E.W. Mason in 1902, just a few short years after the Mahdist War ended. Containing far more detail and side-stories than any film version, its central theme, cowardice in the face of possible death, does rings true in the cinematic adaptations of the story. The primary character, Lieutenant Harry Faversham (John Clements) decides he cannot face the possibility of dying in battle. As such, he resigns from his commission in the army and does not join his friends, Captain John Durrance (Ralph Richardson), Lieutenant Burroughs (Donald Gray) and Lieutenant Willoughby (Jack Allen), as they head off to war. Following his withdrawal, they each send Faversham a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. That’s bad enough but it’s the fourth one that pushes him beyond what he can accept in himself, as a man and a soldier.

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