Archive for the 'Anglophile' Category

15
Jul
14

That Hamilton Woman

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That Hamilton Woman (1941) opens with a once well-off woman trying to steal a bottle of wine from a shop in Calais. She’s caught and thrown in jail with another woman who joined in the brouhaha that followed her arrest. Starring Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier, That Hamilton Woman is a propaganda movie that Churchill asked the director Alexander Korda to make to appeal to Americans and convince the public that joining the war was the right thing to do.

Based on history, Leigh stars as Emma, who’s frequently changed her name about as frequently as she’s changed lovers. Her last lover, whom she thinks will marry her sent her to Naples to stay with his uncle, an ambassador who has a passion for collecting art — and beautiful women if they come his way. Though she and her mother who’s with her are worldly enough to know better, Emma’s surprised that her “fiancé” is going to marry a rich woman to help him out of financial troubles. He arranged for his uncle to take Emma offer her hands. Jilted, she’s furious at the trickery, but she’s an opportunist and winds up marrying the old uncle and making the most of life as an ambassador’s wife.

The many portraits by Abbott originate from th...

Horatio Nelson by Abbott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She meets Horatio Nelson, the famous naval leader who beat Napolean, time and time again. Though their both married, they become intimate. Leigh’s perfect as the coquettish and politically astute Emma. Olivier is commanding as Nelson. We see the couple across many years from when they first meet, to when Nelson returns after 5 years at war. It’s the only movie I’ve seen where the leading man is still dashing despite losing an arm and an eye.

In Naples the couple is fairly open about their love. It maddens Nelson’s son who’s stationed on his ship and he’s the first to refer to Emma as “That Hamilton Woman.” Town gossips soon use that term as well, but it doesn’t bother Emma. She’s got chutzpah galore. I read the history and this was a woman who used to dance naked on tables in her early days in “show business.” So the late 18th century wasn’t as straight-laced as you might think.

The Ambassador Hamilton enjoys Emma more as an ornament than anything else. While he asks Emma to be discreet, he isn’t all that hurt by her affair. Nelson’s wife is another story. She’s been waiting for him for 7 years and has gotten wind of “that Hamilton woman.” The stern and upright, Mrs. Nelson meets her husband in London when he returns after defeating Napolean’s navy at Trafalgar, in a battle scene that’s wonderfully shot. She’s a plain woman who’s strict and old fashioned. I’m not sure whether the real Lady Nelson was like this and think the film would be stronger if she were actually a rather attractive nice woman. This choice makes it easy to side with Nelson. I prefer more complexity and reality.

Emma Hamilton, in a 1782–84 portrait by George...

The real Emma Hamilton, in a 1782–84 portrait by G. Romney,                (Source: Wikipedia)

Be that as it may, the film is dramatic and it was fun to watch Vivien Leigh in a role other than Scarlett O’Hara. Since we see in the first scene that Emma ends up on the skids, I’m not spoiling anything by discussing that. I felt sorry that she ended up like that. It didn’t seem right that her husband, who never insisted she end her affair, died penniless and then she got no money from Nelson. According to the Criterion Collection bonus feature with the director’s nephew, history’s unclear about what happened to Emma, but the moral code of the day required that to show an adulterous couple, you would have to show that dire consequences follow that sort of life choice.

All in all, That Hamilton Woman, was an entertaining way to learn about 18th and early 19th century British history. Nelson’s military acumen and self-sacrifice are laudable and though I doubt the film would succeed in convincing Americans it’s time to jump into WWII.

Again, the Criterion Collection’s bonus features were worth seeing. Michael Korda, whose uncle directed the film and whose father was the art director, provided lots on insights into its making and the collaboration between his father and uncle. He also described Vivien Leigh’s tempestuous relationship with Olivier whose personality favored more even-keel people.

02
Jul
14

City Lights

The Tramp and the Blind Girl

I’d never watched Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, or perhaps any Chaplin film, before. I remember being shown some silent film as a child in some group setting and being bored to tears. That feeling ran deep, though the specifics – who was in the film, or what it was about faded fast. Since I’m half way through my year of watching one “old” i.e. pre 1960 movie a week, I thought it’s high time to watch Chaplin.

After seeing and loving Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last released by the Criterion Collection with the enriching commentary, I thought I could like City Lights. I was right. What a delightful, charming, poignant film! Chaplin plays his signature Tramp, who I think everyone in the West with a pulse has seen in some form. As the film opens some long winded politician is bloviating at a ceremony to unveil a statue about progress and prosperity. When the drape is removed, we see the Tramp asleep in one of the figure’s laps. He scrambles to get out of the way, always desiring not to bother anyone, but in so doing gets more entangled and almost loses his pants. It’s high comedy, but still works. What’s more Chaplin is definitely satirizing the politicians and society that honors these values while blind to those left behind or harmed by “progress” and whom “prosperity” has overlooked.

Soon the Tramp meets and falls in love with a girl who’s blind, who sells flowers on the street. She mistakes him for a millionaire and this is the main plot. After impressing the flower girl, the Tramp runs into a crazy, distraught millionaire whose life he saves. The friendship between the eccentric millionaire and the Tramp is mercurial. When the millionaire’s drunk, all’s well. When he sobers up, he rejects the Tramp, time and again.

The Tramp and the Millionaire

The film’s commentary helped me note a lot in the film that I would have overlooked. The political themes, the cast, and the history (how on average Chaplin did 38 takes for every scene in what he himself dubbed a “neurotic” quest for perfection).

The film came out in 1931 when sound had been around for awhile. Chaplin, the commentator states, didn’t think sound really added much to films and that it took away some of film’s subtleties. While there’s plenty of slapstick, I can see Chaplin’s point. By having to rely on pantomime, the actors have to do more with a look or action. Also, Chaplin’s films did well all over the world. He felt that if the audience heard his accent some wouldn’t like his work as much. It’s a valid point as when I watched, I projected an American accent on to the characters.

The film is delightful and succeeds in providing humor and pathos often right on top of each other.

10
May
14

Mr Selfridge Background:

Mabel Normand hat
Tomorrow’s Mr. Selfridge will feature a visit from silent film star Mabel Normand. She eventually directed her own films and opened her own film studio. Here’s more from The Encyclopedia of World Biography:

Actress and comedienne Mabel Normand’s most important role involved her contribution to the development of film comedy. Those who came after, such as Lucille Ball, owe her a large debt.

Normand proved far ahead of her time. She was an independent, successful woman in a male-dominated industry, and she exercised a great deal of control over her own career. She also developed gags, wrote scripts, and even directed some early silent films. But this comedy star’s life was filled with tragedy. She became enmeshed in scandal, indulged far too much than was good for her fragile health, and she died young.

Normand was one of the film world’s first celebrities. She had a rebellious nature, and this non-conformity made her a “star” before that term came into common use. Like modern celebrities, her involvement in career-destroying scandals unfairly amounted to little more than guilt by association.

Born in New York City

The screen’s first true female comedy star was born as Mabel Ethelried Normand on November 11, 1892, in Staten Island in New York City, New York. She was the youngest of four children born to Claude G. Normand and Mary Drury Normand. Her parents were French Canadians, and Claude Normand struggled to make a living to support his family. He worked as a carpenter but also played piano in clubs, small theaters, and movie houses.

As a young teenager, Normand toiled as a factory garment worker. In 1909, the seventeen-year-old Normand found work as a model. Painters and illustrators were attracted to her dark curled hair that framed her round face and large, expressive eyes. At the time, such attributes epitomized the current conception of beauty. Famous artists she posed for included Charles Dana Gibson, who created the “Gibson girl look,” and James Montgomery Flagg, the man who created the famous Uncle Sam “I Want You” military recruiting posters.

Moved from Modeling to Films

Normand was friends with Alice Joyce, a fellow model whose beauty led her into film work. Normand followed her into the burgeoning industry and worked as an extra in films produced by the Kalem Film Company, an early East Coast-based movie production studio. Soon, she made the acquaintance of Frank Lanning, an actor who worked at Biograph Studios. Lanning convinced her to change studios, which proved to be good advice, as Biograph boasted the talents of D.W. Griffith, the pioneering film director who would later produce the movie industry’s first feature films, (The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance). As such, the company attracted the best of the early film industry’s talent.

Continue reading ‘Mr Selfridge Background:’

10
May
14

Mr Selfridge Background: Mabel Normand

Earlier I posted some background information on Mabel Normand who’s in the next episode of Mr Selfridge. Here are a couple of her short silent films. These two are both from 1912 so the real Selfridge folks might have seen them.

08
May
14

He Knew Mr Selfridge

This 102 year old worked at Selfridges in the ’30s, way after Agnes, Thackery, Henri, Victor, Mr Crabb Miss, Mardle, Kitty et al.

05
May
14

Voice of Terror

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This week I watched The Voice of Terror for my weekly old movie selection. The Voice of Terror is a Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In this film Nazi’s are predicting and broadcasting them minutes before they occur. Trains are getting derailed, factories are getting blown up, and the government is completely ineffective. Time to call in Sherlock Holmes.

While this 1940s film lacks the slick appeal of the new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, it’s still highly satisfying. Rathbone is Sherlock and Bruce is Watson, a delightful one to boot. They have a good rapport and can be witty and compelling as a scene requires. I think you have to watch and think a bit more carefully to appreciate the humor here, but even if you miss it, you can enjoy this detective flick. There’s a memorable scene at the end that takes some lines from Doyle’s “The Last Bow.”

It was rather relaxing to watch an exciting drama that doesn’t need to take its viewers to the edge.

03
May
14

mr selfridge, recap & comments

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The opening this Mr. Selfridge episode with the removal of all German products was a great way to show the patriotism and anti-German sentiment of the day.

Poor Franco, Victor’s dashing brother, got rejected when the brown-haired girl at the cosmetics counter wouldn’t go out with him because her father forbids her to date “foreign” men. Mind you Franco was born in Britain. Seems she could have been more diplomatic.

The weasel-y Thackery spies outside the store to see what Henri’s up to. He disapproves of Henri’s hat, a Hamburg, though we learn that during the war they were renamed. Agnes was still upset with Henri, who does owe her an apology for being so abrupt and rude the day before.

At home Harry finishes an early morning interview with his reporter friend Frank. Harry makes it clear that he disapproves of the U.S. profiting from war by selling to both the Germans and British. I do agree and didn’t realize we did that. We also learn from Rose that Americans are hurrying home to the U.S.

Gordon, who’s now promoted to the tea department, is getting friendly with Miss Calthorpe, the young lady who’s training him. They do make a good couple and he’s gallant enough to buy her sister a beautiful doll after remembering something she mentioned in passing.

In a department meeting Kitty manages to take a compliment and turn it around to put down all the other department heads. I enjoy her lack of self-knowledge and her usually harmless egotistical quips that just make her look silly in spite of herself. Miss Mardle’s heavy sigh said it all. I love how the shows humor surfaces from Kitty, Mr. Crabb and sometimes Mr. Grove’s little blunders. Harry shares a nice moment with Miss Mardle encouraging her to enjoy her money. Yes, live a little, Miss Mardle. “Your brother would have wanted it.”

At the Loxley house, Lord L slinked into Lady L’s room while she’s preparing her toilette. He’s discovered signs she has a lover and tsk-tsks her in his cold-blooded fashion. He certainly is part reptile. You realize he minimally cares about her. No passion, no anger. It’s all about control. He’s somehow gotten the key to her door. God knows why she let that out of her sight. She’s missed a beat and that’s not like her. She’s quite sad and I think rather fearful that this abusive man has taken her key. I would say she should get another lock tout suite.

Next Bill Summertime (yes, that’s his name) barges in on Harry at work and proposes he help the war effort by spying for the secret service. Harry’s non-committal but will think it over. This could get very interesting and does.

Kitty secures a dinner invitation from Frank who breezes into the store to show Harry his article. Talk about a quick turn around. Seems the interview was before work. When Miss Mardle kindly advises Kitty to be wary of Frank, the known philanderer, Kitty again puts her in her place with a snide personal jibe. If you only knew, Kitty. Miss Mardle has enjoyed a man’s company, just the wrong man’s company –or way too long up till 5 years ago more or less. She knows whereof she speaks.

Thackery throws some barbs Henri’s way. He brings up his Hamburg and notes that his shoes are also made in Germany. Talk about obsessed. Henri brushes off both comments and tells Thackery to dress the mannequins properly. Yes, Thackery, keep your mind on your work. Your department’s slipping. I do wish we could see some of Thackery’s underlings. I imagine many would aim for transfers or quit with regularity.

Harry tells Frank that he’s not at all interested in the procurement committee and that he doesn’t trust Loxley in the least. (Note this for next week, folks.)

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Delphine receives a huge shipment of liquor from Harry, which she takes as a sign. The cogs in her head go full throttle and we can tell she’s got Harry in her sights. Poor, Rose. Who needs such “friends”? I’m guessing Harry is just generous. There’s no sign (yet) that he’s got an interest in Delphine, who fancies herself an expert in men and believes the lie that “I understand him so much better than his wife.” Moreover, she’s distancing herself from Rose, reflecting her invitations with feeble excuses. Yes, it’s easier to seduce a man’s husband if you aren’t friends with her. Though it seemed that Jim was sweet on Delphine and wise enough to suggest that perhaps Delphine doesn’t understand Harry. He was just way too subtle for Delphine.

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Mr. Thackery slithered into Mr. Grove’s office insinuating that Msgr. LeClair is a spy because he looked unkempt and seems secretive. It’s clear that Mr. Groves is just annoyed, but now has to speak with Henri.

Speaking of Henri, in a memorable scene outside the store he is with Agnes, who wears a lovely embroidered jacket. A discussion of whether Agnes could do better than the honest, hardworking Victor leads to her asking him about his secrets. Henri behaves very French-ly (Frenchesque?) and reflects her questions and rebuffs her. She’s saved by Victor’s entrance and he escorts her off to a night of fun at a variety show.

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The show was fun and Miss Mardle and Florian, the Belgian border join Victor and Agnes. (Odd that Victor didn’t mention the male boarder at the store where the news could travel. Was he sworn to secrecy? How does he feel about the “arrangement”?) Back stage Mae asks Richard Chapman, the singer to perform at the Selfridge patriotic concert. She remembers her days on the stage as a popular entertainer when men would lie at her feet in swarms apparently. Richard’s an old friend and Mae soon shares that she’s made a terrible decision, that staying with Lord Loxley is hell. She’s funny, honest, vulnerable and wise.

Gordon surprises Miss Calthorpe with the gift of a doll for her sister, who has few toys. So sweet.

As Henri goes up to see Mr. Groves about Thackery’s troublesome speculations, Agnes hangs up his coat in a way that suggests she’s not over him. I wanted her to go through his pockets in search of clues about his secret. How terrible of me.

Rather than tell Mr. Groves what he’s been up to Henri announces he’s going to hand in his notice. At first it seems like another rash decision just like the end of season 1, but perhaps he is wise. He’s hiding something and did warn Harry that his return to the store wouldn’t be good for anyone. Such cloak and dagger stuff, Henri. What are you up to? I believe and hope there’s a perfectly reasonable, even honorable explanation.

(Grégory Fitoussi’s characters land in jail a lot. Poor Pierre from Spiral, a.k.a. Engrenage was in a terrible fix. Check it out on Netflix. Warning – that French police show is gritty, violent, but the acting is superb.)

After getting a bank loan to reopen his uncle’s restaurant, Victor proposes to Agnes. He thinks it’d be great for them to marry and run the restaurant together. Well, Agnes accepts, so I suppose she is done with Mr. LeClair, but run a restaurant? When you could continue with your career at Selfridges? Agnes, really?

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The show ends with a riveting sequence of scenes cutting between the concert, where Richard brings Mae on stage much to Lord Loxley’s extreme displeasure, to Henri’s search for Harry, who’s been whisked off to Germany to spy, to Henri’s arrest for espionage. The action and cuts from each scene to the next were powerful, some of the best television has offered.

Viewers were left stunned, waiting for more and the next episode is sure to deliver. Do not miss it.

Drama like this is rare and I hope the Mr Selfridge writer is wise enough to stick with WWI for more than one season.




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